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Photo illustration: Filograph

Various media outlets have reported that the U.S. waged some form of cyber operation against the Iranian military last week in response to attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and an unmanned U.S. drone.

The big question: Given its history of responding to various threats with cyberattacks of their own, how will Tehran respond? It's a complicated question to answer, especially given how close President Trump was to launching physical attacks as part of his own response to escalating tensions with Iran.

Background: In 2012, just after the U.S. implemented sanctions against Iran — and with the memory still fresh of the Stuxnet malware likely designed by the U.S. and Israel to disable Iran's nuclear program — Iran is believed to have launched several cyberattacks against the U.S. financial sector.

  • Since then, Iran has also been suspected of destructive cyberattacks against the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco and the Sands Las Vegas Corporation.
  • "You'd be right to think about those attacks," said Ben Buchanan, an assistant teaching professor at Georgetown who studies escalation in cyber warfare.
  • "It is fair to say Iran has a history of lashing out with its destructive cyber capabilities in response to perceived provocations," he said. "How they play it this time though is unclear, given that the risk of kinetic strikes seems very real."

The intrigue: Iran has recently been increasing its cyber espionage efforts against the United States. But the operations appear (at this point) to be more about gathering intelligence to guide Tehran than causing damage. That could change at any time.

  • "Bottom line: A cyberattack is among the worst tools we could have chosen to respond to the Iranian attack on our drone because it will engender retaliation, cyber retaliation," said former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell, who currently hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast.
  • A better response, said Morell, would have been a physical strike on a military asset with "near-zero probability" of casualties.

But, but, but: While the specter of U.S. cyberattacks against Iran might bring to mind Stuxnet, we don't know what form these attacks took. It could have been something minor — more of a brushback pitch designed to deter, rather than destroy.

  • "The reporting is not clear on what form the 'attacks' took," said Michael Daniel, former cybersecurity coordinator for the Obama White House and current CEO and president of the Cyber Threat Alliance, via email.
  • "If they were fairly simple, like a DDoS or locking the Iranians out of social media accounts used to troll for information, then I would say the escalation risk from those actions would be low."

Go deeper

22 mins ago - Health

CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers

Travelers with their luggage arrive at a COVID-19 testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 23, 2021. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night that it is working to impose stricter testing requirements for international travelers due to the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The big picture: The new rules would require all international travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative test taken a day before their flight to the U.S. Currently, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to show a test taken no more than three days before their departure, AP reports.

Republicans threaten to shut down government over vaccine mandates

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Capitol in November 2020. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Conservative Republicans in the House and Senate are planning to force a government shutdown Friday to deny funding needed to enforce the Biden administration's vaccine mandates on the private sector, according to Politico.

Why it matters: Congress has until the end of the week to pass a stopgap measure to extend funding into 2022, though objection from a small group of Republicans could shut down the government.

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.