Iran: Hitting Back with a Keyboard

Let’s say that right now you are Iran. The US has torn up a deal you were abiding by, and reimposed crippling sanctions that are exacerbating a currency crash and broader economic crisis. You’re in no mood to roll over for Uncle Sam – Washington’s demands are beyond the pale –  but what are you gonna do about it?


You have options. You could threaten oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, or encourage your proxies in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East to step up their attacks against US allies and interests. But why go to all that trouble and expense when you could inflict pain on the Great Satan and its friends with a tap or two on a keyboard and the click of a mouse?

Iran has done cyber-damage before. Back in 2012 Tehran launched a series of cyberattacks against the US and Saudi Arabia as tensions were on the rise. This time around, Tehran will almost certainly be tempted to do the same. Here’s one reason why it might not want to do anything too provocative – along with two reasons why you should be worried anyway.

First, the “good” news: Unlike the Obama Administration, Donald Trump and his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton are almost certainly ready (if not actively itching) to respond ferociously to any Iranian cyberattacks, particularly if they cause any serious damage to people or property in the US. Iran knows this and may reason that it’s better to go after something in the neighborhood and relatively low-risk, like Saudi companies’ business networks, rather than to invite US wrath by going after something more sensitive in Uncle Sam’s own house, right?

But here’s where things get dicey: Cyber weapons aren’t like missiles that you can just stockpile and pull out whenever you want. Hackers’ access to networks comes and goes as their targets discover and defend against new threats. So if Tehran thinks it has a shot on goal, it might feel pressure to take it. Iran will step carefully, but it may be more likely to consider a riskier attack on a higher value American target – if the opportunity presents itself.

There’s another problem: Cyber weapons can be hard to control once you make the decision to use them. As an example, when suspected Russian hackers hit Ukraine with a big ransomware attack last year, the malware – which had beenaugmented with weapons-grade code stolen from the US National Security Agency -- spread well beyond its initial target. It caused billions of dollars of damage and wiped out IT systems in dozens of countries, including Russia. No one was killed. The attack didn’t destroy the computers that regulate control systems in a power plant or take down the intensive care unit of a major hospital. But next time might not be so lucky.

Put together, Iran’s incentive to retaliate while it can, and the potential for unintended, even deadly, consequences adds a dangerous new dimension to an already-tense standoff.

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

It's been two months since President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a bloody Turkish offensive in that region. (See our earlier coverage here.) What's happened since? A guide for the puzzled:

No "end date" for US troops in Syria – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this week that the United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria. Back in October, President Trump pledged to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops deployed there. Since then, some American troops have left Syria altogether, while others were redeployed to defend nearby oil fields from ISIS, as well as from Syrian government troops and Russia. Now, there are roughly 600 American troops dispersed around Syria, and the remainder have been deployed in Iraq to stave off a potential ISIS resurgence. It's not clear if any troops have returned to the US. When asked about the chaotic comings and goings of US troops in Syria in recent months, the commander of US Central Command said frankly: there's no "end date" for American troops stationed there.

More Show less

Turkey's government has captured many thousands of ISIS fighters as a result of its operations in northern Syria. Many of these prisoners have already been deported to some of the more than 100 countries they come from, and Ankara says it intends to send more. There are also more than 10,000 women and children – family members of ISIS fighters – still living in camps inside Syria.

These facts create a dilemma for the governments of countries where the ISIS detainees are still citizens: Should these terrorist fighters and their families be allowed to return, in many cases to face trial back home? Or should countries refuse to allow them back?

More Show less

What's the difference between Alphabet and Google?

Well, Google is the search engine, YouTube, all the stuff you probably think of as Google. Alphabet is the parent company that was created four or five years ago. And it contains a whole bunch of other entities like Jigsaw, Verily - the health care company that Google runs, Waymo - the self-driving car unit. Also, it's important to know Google makes tons of money. Alphabet, all that other stuff loses tons of money.

More Show less

The collapse of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria has given rise to a host of new challenges for governments around the world. Turkey has captured thousands of ISIS fighters as a result of its offensive in northern Syria, many of whom are foreign nationals who left their home countries to fight with the Islamic State. To date, non-Middle East countries have mostly opposed ISIS fighters returning home, leaving them, and their spouses and children, in legal limbo. Here's a look at where these foreign fighters come from.