US intelligence officials on Tuesday accused Iran of creating and deploying a sophisticated cyberattack to undermine the US election in an effort to help the Republican Donald Trump win the White House in November.
The accusation by the US Intelligence Community’s Cyber Division and its Cyber Command in Washington comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran over the latter’s nuclear programme.
“We are seeing an unprecedented escalation of the cyber attacks against our government, our companies and our businesses,” said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday in a statement, using an acronym for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Tillerson said Iran was also using “hacking techniques” to steal financial information and political documents of US businesses and US citizens.
“We have seen a number of attacks and attacks against US and European governments that we have attributed to Iran,” he said.
Iran denies any role in cyberattacks.
The Revolutionary Guard has denied any involvement in the attacks.
“The Revolutionary Guard’s cyber defence capabilities and cyber capabilities are well-known and are being used in many ways to disrupt our enemies and our enemies’ systems,” said Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
“They also have cyber capabilities to steal the financial information of our government and our companies, as well as our citizens.”‘
An unprecedented escalation’US officials said they believe the cyberattack on US companies and US officials is the first of its kind.
“This attack, in addition to its malicious intent, may have been designed to cause harm to US and other entities in retaliation for US sanctions on Iran, the United States government and US military operations,” the Cyber Command and the Intelligence Community said in a joint statement.
But the attack was also aimed at undermining US and international institutions, and US President Donald Trump has described the cyberattacks as “an unprecedented escalation” of Iran’s nuclear threat.
Tillers statement came after Iranian President Hassan Rohani accused Washington of trying to change the outcome of the US presidential election.
Rohani, who is also the Iranian president, also claimed the attack had been perpetrated by a state-sponsored hacking group called “Chernobyl” or “The Heart”.
“The attacks have been launched on the US government and on US institutions,” Rohani told a news conference on Tuesday.
“I would like to thank the American people for their support, for their faith in us and the support of our leaders and the people of this country.”
“This cyber attack, as we have seen from our own cyber security and cyber defence, has been an unprecedented and an unprecedented, an unprecedented attack,” he added.
“It is an attack on US democracy.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also called the attacks an “act of aggression”.
‘Iranians have been hacked into’A US official said the cyber attack is “not only directed at our government institutions and American citizens but at other sectors in our society as well, including our private companies, businesses and even our political parties”.
“We think it is very significant that the Iranians have been hacking into the US and their government institutions, our political organisations and our private businesses and private people,” the official told reporters on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
US cyber experts say the attack on the Democratic party was the first such attack targeting the US.
A senior US official told Reuters that Iranian officials have not been formally linked to the attack.
Some cyber security experts have warned that the attacks were likely carried out by Iranian intelligence, and that Iran was behind the attacks in order to help Trump win election.
“Iran is not alone in attacking US and allied institutions and companies.
We believe the attack is an act of aggression,” the US official added.
Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced out of his position after he was forced to resign after he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington in January.
Flynn was also accused by the Justice Department of misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential campaign.
An unnamed official close to the investigation told Reuters the investigation is still in its early stages.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama accused Iran on Tuesday of hacking into its own election, saying that Tehran has been “acting with unprecedented sophistication” in the past month.
Obama said the attacks had been launched “to sow fear in our minds” about US elections.
“And we are seeing it in some of our elections in the United Kingdom, the UK election, as the hacking campaign goes on,” he told reporters.
On Tuesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also called on his country’s people to “stand united against any cyber attack”.
“Those who try to sow fear by means of cyber attacks are playing a dangerous game, and the US, the West, and all nations must stand united in defense of our sovereignty,” Khamenei said in Tehran.
Meanwhile, the US has accused Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayadollah Ali Shah Gehlavy, of orchestrating