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Texas Says Attempted Cyber Infiltration Surges: Iran Update

Kartikay Mehrotra
Texas Says Attempted Cyber Infiltration Surges: Iran Update

(Bloomberg) -- Iran fired volleys of rockets against U.S.-Iraqi airbases early Wednesday as part of its promised retaliation over the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. His death last week has escalated tensions in the region, and Iran says it’s weighing 13 scenarios for reprisal. The attack by Iran roiled global markets in early trading Wednesday.

Key developments:

Iran retaliates against U.S. in rocket attack on Iraqi basesU.S. denies Iraq exit after errant letterIn Brussels, the so-called E3 are going to meetIranian threat ends upbeat start for marketsIran’s parliament passes a bill designating Pentagon as “terrorists”

Here’s the latest. All times are New York local time:

Texas Reports Surge in Cyber Interference (10:18 p.m.)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that reconnaissance of the state’s computer networks by foreign operatives has surged in the last two days to 10,000 attempts per minute.

While it’s not uncommon for adversaries to attempt attacks on an hourly basis, Texas has detected increased activity from “outside the United States, including Iran,” according to the Texas Department of Information Resources.

There have been warnings of Iranian cyber attacks in the wake of the killing of an Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week.

The Texas agency emphasized that it has successfully blocked every attempt to gain entry, but declined to explain exactly where hackers have tried to gain access.

The agency “constantly detects and blocks malicious traffic on the networks of the multiple state agencies it services,” according to a statement issued by the state after Abbott met with his domestic terrorism taskforce. “As global threats to cybersecurity increase, we urge Texans to be vigilant and use heightened awareness as they conduct Internet activity.”

The Texas statement came three days after the website for the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program was hacked and defaced with “pro-Iranian, anti-U.S. messaging.” The South Alabama Veterans Council was similarly targeted.

U.S. Restricts Flights Over Persian Gulf (9:05 p.m.)

U.S. aviation regulators issued new restrictions barring civilian flights over Iraq, Iran, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the agency said Tuesday night in an emailed statement.

The effect of the restrictions wasn’t immediately clear because the Federal Aviation Administration had been prohibiting U.S. carriers from flying over most of those areas.

“The FAA will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East,” the agency said in the statement. “We continue coordinating with our national security partners and sharing information with U.S. air carriers and foreign civil aviation authorities.”

Separately, Singapore Airlines Ltd. said it would divert its flights to Europe in the wake of the attacks and fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

“All SIA flight routes are being diverted from the Iranian airspace,” Singapore Air said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg News. The carrier didn’t provide further details.

Tehran Says It Fired Rockets at U.S. Base in Iraq (6:32 p.m.)

Iran fired tens of rockets at a joint U.S.-Iraqi airbase early Wednesday morning Baghdad time, Iranian state television reported, citing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A U.S. defense official confirmed that an attack was underway against the Ayn al-Asad in western Iraq.

“We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told Iranian state television that further responses will be on the way to the Soleimani strike last week.

“The IRGC announces to the great Satan the U.S. that any responses will be met with much more pain and destruction,” the IRGC said.

U.S. stock futures fell on the news, with contracts on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropping 0.8%.

U.S., Iran Seen Having Range of Military Options (5:30 p.m.)

A new report from the Congressional Research Service said the U.S. and Iran have a wide range of direct and indirect military options to deploy as tensions between the two countries soar. But, the report adds, military escalation is unlikely to help either side achieve its political goals.

Iranian-only targets for the U.S. include Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy vessels in the Persian Gulf, nuclear facilities, military bases, ports and oil installations, according to the report. Another option: Iranian proxies.

“Attacks on Iranian allies could be limited or expansive -- intended to seriously degrade the military ability of the Iranian ally in question,” according to the report by CRS analysts Kenneth Katzman and Kathleen McInnis. But such actions “could harm the prospects for resolution of U.S.-Iran tensions or the regional conflicts in which Iranian allies operate.”

For Iran, its support of armed factions across the Middle East and its stockpile of short-range ballistic missiles offers it the potential to “expand confrontation into areas where U.S. response options might be limited,” the report said.

Trump Says Now Isn’t Right Time to Leave Iraq (2:42 p.m.)

President Donald Trump said it isn’t the right time for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq after the country’s parliament called for foreign troops to depart and confusion erupted over a draft U.S. letter suggesting preparations for a withdrawal.

“Eventually we want to be able to allow Iraq to run its own affairs,” Trump said Tuesday during an Oval Office meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “This isn’t the right point.”

Trump said a U.S. departure would be a mistake because it would give Iran a foothold in the country.

Questions about whether the U.S. would exit Iraq swirled on Monday after a letter surfaced that purportedly told military officials in Baghdad that American forces were repositioning in advance of a departure. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the letter was a draft and should never have been sent. Trump said he didn’t know anything about the letter.

Separately on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he hasn’t received any request from the Iraqi government to withdraw U.S. forces. And he said at the time of last week’s strike, Soleimani was just days away from attacking U.S. forces in Iraq.

U.K. Minister Says Iran Nuclear Deal is Still Alive (12:23 p.m.)

The U.K.’s defense chief said he doesn’t think the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is dead, and added that the government is working hard with France and Germany to ensure the agreement doesn’t fall by the wayside.

“We don’t think it’s dead, we think that there is still a chance, and we will make sure that despite what’s going on now in the immediate, in the long term, that is the best solution,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Tuesday, when asked in the House of Commons about the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord in 2018 and Iran this week said it will suspend all limits on uranium enrichment activities and remove all curbs on the number of centrifuges required to induce a fission chain reaction.

Despite that, Wallace said European allies could seek to pull Iran back to the terms of the deal by using its dispute resolution mechanism, something they’ve yet to try out.

Pompeo Derides Claim Soleimani Was on Peace Mission (11:34 a.m)

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo derided claims that Soleimani was in Baghdad on a diplomatic mission when he was killed in a U.S. drone strike, as leaders in Iran and Iraq have claimed.“Anybody here believe that? Is there any history that would indicate that it was remotely possible that this kind gentleman, this diplomat of great order, Qassem Soleimani, had traveled to Baghdad for the idea of conducting a peace mission?” Pompee told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday. “We know that wasn’t true.”

Pompeo said the claims by Iranian and Iraqi officials are Iranian propaganda.He again warned Tehran against attacking the U.S., saying President Donald Trump would respond in the same “decisive, serious” way it did against Soleimani.

U.S. Companies Told to Brace for Likely Cyberattack (11:05 a.m.)

U.S. corporations need to brace for possible cyberattacks within a month as Iran retaliates for the killing of a top military figure, threat experts said Tuesday.

“I don’t think they’re going to bring the economy to its knees,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at the cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. “But can they do a lot of damage to individual participants - major companies? Absolutely.”

It’s not too late to prepare, Hultquist said in an interview after speaking at a symposium at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Priscilla Moriuchi, head of nation-state research at threat tracking firm Recorded Future, said she expects a cyberattack “within a month” but noted that impacts may be unknown for weeks and months after an assault begins. Targets could include oil and gas companies operating in the Middle East, and perhaps public web pages of military bases, she said.

Republican Paul Says U.S. Less Safe After Killing (9:55 a.m.)

Senator Rand Paul said attacks on U.S. targets are more likely after the killing of Soleimani.

“The person who has replaced him has been his assistant general for 22 years, is a hardliner, and now the whole country of Iran is consumed with revenge,” Paul, a Kentucky Republican, told Fox News on Tuesday. “So if you’re asking yourself will there be attacks on America, I think there’s much more likely to be attacks now with his death.”

He said the killing “set us back a great deal” and that diplomacy is off the table. “The only possibility now is military escalation,” he said.

Soleimani ‘Planning to Kill,’ O’Brien Says (8:47 a.m.)

Soleimani “was planning to kill, to attack American facilities and diplomats,” National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told reporters Tuesday at the White House. “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were located at those facilities.” O’Brien said he could not reveal sources and methods for gathering the intelligence “but I can tell you it was very strong.”

“As long as there’s bad actors in the world there are always threats to Americans and the Iranians have been making many many threats to the United States over the past several days,” O’Brien said. “We take those seriously. And we’re watching and monitoring them.”

U.K. Security Council to Meet on Iran (8:34 a.m.)

The U.K.’s National Security Council will meet at 5 p.m. in London, the prime minister’s spokesman James Slack said, adding that Boris Johnson told ministers at their weekly meeting on Tuesday morning that efforts are focused on protecting British citizens and their interests. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is in Brussels for talks.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will brief lawmakers in Parliament at 3:30 p.m. and will outline diplomatic and military steps the U.K. is taking in response to the crisis. Slack refused to comment on any legal advice Johnson’s government has received over the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

Emergency Meeting of Europeans in Brussels (4:33 a.m.)

With tensions rising by the minute, the foreign ministers of the U.K., France and Germany will hold an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss what -- if anything -- can be done to defuse the situation. With the 2015 nuclear deal all but dead, the pressure is rising to toughen their response.

Read more: Europeans Scramble to Work Out What They Can Do About Iran

Stampede Reported at Soleimani’s Funeral (4:20 a.m.)

A stampede erupted at the funeral procession and an unspecified number of people have been killed or injured, AP reported, citing Iranian state TV. The head of Iran’s emergency medical services, Pirhossein Koulivand, was cited for the information.

Hossein Salami, the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, threatened at the funeral to “set ablaze” places supported by the U.S., AP reported.

U.S. Futures Pare Gain on Iran’s Warning of Retaliation (2:45 a.m.)

An upbeat start to trading on Tuesday faded as a semi-official news organization in Iran said the country is assessing scenarios for its response to Soleimani’s killing. U.S. equity futures pared gains, while Treasuries and gold reversed declines.

Earlier, stocks posted strong gains across Asia amid a general easing of concern about the situation in the Middle East.

Shamkhani Says Iran’s Response Will Be ‘Historic Nightmare’ for U.S. (2:30 a.m.)

“Even if the weakest of these scenarios gains a consensus, the implementation of it can be a historic nightmare for the Americans,” Ali Shamkhani, head of Iran’s national security council, is cited as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. “For now, for intelligence reasons, we cannot provide more information to the media,” he says.

Iran is assessing 13 scenarios for retaliation, Shamkhani was cited as saying. “The entirety of the resistance forces will retaliate” for Soleimani’s killing, he says.

Zarif Says He’ll Attend Davos (2 a.m.)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will attend the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported, citing organizers of the meeting. A spokesman for the event, which will be held from Jan. 21 to Jan. 24, wasn’t immediately available to comment. The news comes after Zarif was denied a visa to travel to New York for meetings at the United Nations, according to a person familiar with the matter on Monday evening. The person said the U.S. had to take certain precautions after Soleimani’s killing.

As part of its agreement to host the UN headquarters, the U.S. is obligated to approve visas for official travel to the global body.

The U.S. and Iranian missions to the UN didn’t immediately reply to questions about the status of the visa request.

Zarif Says Regional War Could Drag On ‘for Generations’ (1:55 a.m.)

Speaking in Tehran, Zarif said the Middle East will have to deal with war “for generations” if it relies on the U.S.

The countdown has begun for America’s exit from the region, he said.

Germany to Temporarily Withdraw Some Troops (1:45 a.m.)

Germany will temporarily move some troops from Iraq who were taking part in a training mission there, according to a lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party.

Of Germany’s 120 soldiers in Iraq, between 30 and 40 will transfer to Jordan, CDU lawmaker Roderich Kiesewetter said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. The mission will continue, although it has been suspended for the time being, Kiesewetter added.

“Of course, if the Iraqi government decides that all foreign troops should withdraw it would affect the training mission and have grave consequences for the fight against IS,” Kiesewetter said. “We would be well advised to make it clear to the Iraqi government what it would mean if 67 states withdrew from the whole region.”

U.S. Embassy in Lebanon Tightens Security (1:45 a.m.)

The U.S. embassy in Beirut is waiting for security backup from American military forces in Italy in anticipation that Iran will retaliate for the killing of its most powerful general, the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

It’s unclear whether the backup will arrive by air or sea, an unidentified military official familiar with the matter told the London-based newspaper.

U.S. Forces Designated as “Terrorists” by Iranian Lawmakers (1:30 a.m.)

Parliament in Tehran passed a bill in retaliation to U.S. actions, according to ICANA, the legislative body’s official news service.

Under the legislation, which expands a previous bill that blacklisted U.S. Central Command, “all members of the Pentagon and related companies, as well as actors and commanders involved in the martyrdom of Qassem Soleimani, are designated in the list of terror groups.”

Earlier:

Trump Vows Sanctions on Ally Iraq, Toughens Rhetoric on Iran (1)

Europeans Scramble to Work Out What They Can Do About Iran (2)

Forwards Traders Raise Speculative Bets Against Gulf Currencies

Trump Threat to Attack Iran’s Cultural Treasures Spurs Backlash

Iran Says Not Bound by Nukes Deal in New Soleimani Fallout (4)

--With assistance from Arsalan Shahla, Richard Bravo, Nikos Chrysoloras, Thomas Penny, Jennifer Jacobs, Todd Shields, Nick Wadhams, Alex Morales, Justin Sink, Glen Carey, Kyunghee Park and Alan Levin.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kartikay Mehrotra in San Francisco at kmehrotra2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, ;Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, John Harney, Chelsea Mes

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