Raft of Low Level Attacks Defaces Home Pages and Brings Down Websites.
A series of low-level cyber-attacks on U.S. government websites over the weekend may be the beginning of Iran’s threatened retaliation for the death of General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. remotely piloted aircraft strike while he visited Iraq last week. The Iranian government also announced it was leaving a 2015 agreement that prohibited the enrichment of uranium, a move that could signal renewed Iranian activity in the development of nuclear weapons.
The Federal Depository Library at www.fdlp.gov was offline as of Sunday, January 5, 2020 at 1500 local time in the Midwestern U.S. The website home page showed a message that said, “ERROR 521: Web Server is Down”. Some media reports, including CBS and CNN, reported that the website briefly displayed anti-American messages, including a defaced photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and an Iranian flag. The images are no longer visible in the U.S. on the Federal Depository Library website, only the error message as the website remains offline.
In a statement published Saturday, January 4, 2020, on the official Department of Homeland Security website, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf said that, “At this time there is no specific, credible threat against the homeland. The Department issued this bulletin to inform, share protective measures, and reassure the American public, state and local governments, and private sector partners that the Department of Homeland Security is actively monitoring and preparing for any specific, credible threat, should one arise”.
The U.S. Selective Service System website, at www.sss.gov, was also down as of 1515 local time in the Midwestern U.S. on Sunday, with the page loading incorrectly after a protracted wait. It was not clear whether the system had been compromised by a deliberate cyber-attack, such a denial of service operation, or if an extraordinary volume of traffic prompted by social media stories rumors of the U.S. reinstated the military draft had caused the interruption in service.
Other key U.S. government service websites, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and the Healthcare.gov websites remained fully operational on Sunday.
The United States has been active in counter-cyber operations and offensive cyber operations since the mid-1980’s, and may lead the world in cyber-combat capabilities, although countries including Syria, China and Israel have recently expanded cyber-combat capabilities and operations extensively.
In September 1984, during the Reagan administration, the White House issued “National Security Decision Directive Number 145”, or “NSDD-145”. The directive was the beginning of the development of offensive and defensive cyber combat capabilities in the U.S.
Interestingly, the move to establish NSDD-145 is said to, in part, come from then-President Ronald Reagan’s obsession with a Hollywood feature film called, “WarGames” starring Matthew Broderick. The film’s fictional plot follows the online misadventures of a young hacker played by Broderick who unwittingly penetrates the War Operation Planned Response (WOPR) computer and almost starts an accidental nuclear war.