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Iranian Hackers May Have Defaced Federal Website, Officials Say

The incident has been considered a potential example of retaliation after the U.S. ordered an airstrike last week that killed Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian general.

After the Trump administration ordered the killing of a high-ranking Iranian general last week, state sponsored hackers from the country may have retaliated by defacing a U.S. federal website, cyber officials say.

The death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad airport last week has stirred tensions regionally, escalating the threat of further conflict between the U.S. and Iran. It has also led to predictions from security experts that Iran may retaliate with cyberattacks.  

On Saturday night, the homepage of the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program was apparently hacked and briefly replaced with an image of a bloody-mouthed President Trump being punched in the face by a fist bearing Iranian insignia, according to CBS News.  

Apparent hacking by an #Iran-linked group of a US government website (the little-known Federal Depository Library Program). is currently offline. — Steve Herman (@W7VOA) January 5, 2020
On the page was written: "Hacked by Iran Cuber Security Group Hackers. This is only small part of Iran's cyber ability! We're always ready." The image also apparently bore a message memorializing Soleimani.  

Whether or not the hack actually came from Iran has not yet been verified, said officials with the Department of Homeland Security. 

"We are aware the website of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was defaced with pro-Iranian, anti-US messaging," said CISA in a statement to Newsweek. "At this time, there is no confirmation that this was the action of Iranian state-sponsored actors. The website was taken off line and is no longer accessible. CISA is monitoring the situation with FDLP and our federal partners."

Soleimani, who was a well-respected political and military figure in Iran, was the leader of the Quds force, an important division of the Iranian National Guard that specializes in covert operations and intelligence. His death was considered by many to be the most drastic escalation in a period of renewed hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, one that has included crippling sanctions, alleged attacks on U.S.-allied oil tankers, and subsequent cyberattacks.     

While the hacking of the website may seem somewhat innocuous, experts have worried that Iran may ply its cybertalents toward larger targets. These include attacks on infrastructure, as well as the potential for hackers to unleash malware like ransomware on American governments and businesses. 

In the hours after the hack, President Trump pitched in his two cents on U.S. defense capabilities with a tweet: 

The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way...and without hesitation! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020