GZERO Media logo

Trump Throws a Cyber Jab at Iran

Trump Throws a Cyber Jab at Iran

The cyberattacks reported by Yahoo News on Friday and by others in recent days targeted Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a proxy militia. Although this isn't the first time the US has used its cyberweapons against Iran — back in 2010 the US and Israel hit Tehran's covert nuclear program hard with a computer worm called Stuxnet — the decision to unleash a cyberattack while refraining from a conventional military response raises some interesting questions:

Why launch a digital strike? It sends a message — but stops short of outright war. President Donald Trump didn't want to further escalate the conflict, but he did want to respond to the triumphant downing of an unmanned US drone, as well as to the tanker attacks that his administration has blamed on Iran. While computer code is undoubtedly dangerous — knocking out a power grid could easily kill thousands of people — dropping a payload of malicious ones and zeroes isn't nearly as provocative as physically bombing the country and killing people.

What next? Expect more digital shenanigans from both sides. Iran has history of launching disruptive cyberattacks against the US and its allies (and companies), and US officials are already warning of more. As Trump runs out of parts of the Iranian economy to sanction (see Hard Numbers, below), he'll likely see cyber as an increasingly attractive option: it can hurt Iran without provoking precisely the kind of wider war that he says he wants to avoid.

What could possibly go wrong? The first worry is collateral damage. Malicious code is hard to control once it's been released "in the wild," and it can affect systems that attackers didn't intend to hit. That leads to the other problem: unintended escalation. Cyberspace is a domain of conflict with few if any real rules, and no consensus on what constitutes an appropriate response to a damaging cyberattack. Put these two risks together, and what looks like a convenient way to smack an adversary without sparking an armed conflict could accidentally spin out of control.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

More Show less

Listen: The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he talks about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offers some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take