US Navy vows to protect Red Sea and Arabian Gulf amid Iran threats

Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, commander of the US 5th Fleet, said the US Navy would ensure free navigation for shipping in the region's waterways. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2018
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US Navy vows to protect Red Sea and Arabian Gulf amid Iran threats

  • Vice Admiral Scott Stearney says US Navy will ensure the free flow of shipping in the Gulf and Red Sea
  • US Navy to hold a series of exercises in the region's waters this month

JEDDAH: The US Navy has vowed to ensure the free flow of shipping in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea after Iranian threats to disrupt the waterways.

Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, commander of the US 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, said Iran’s activities across the region are “promoting instability” that is “affecting the region significantly” through its backing of Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Bloomberg reported.

“The US and our partners stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce wherever international law allows,” he said on Sunday.

The commander made the comments as he announced a series of exercises this month with regional and global allies as part of the US 5th Fleet Theater Counter Mine and Maritime Security Exercise. One of the exercises will take place in Djibouti, near the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait which marks the entrance to the Red Sea.  The waters in the Strait have been threatened by the Houthi militia in Yemen, which controls part of the Red Sea coast. The Iran-backed group have carried out several attacks targeting international shipping.

Iran has also threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf if it is stopped from exporting its own oil.

The US is set to impose a second wave of sanctions in November that will target the Iranian energy sector, including the sale of crude to international customers.

The sanctions are being reimposed after  Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal between Iran and international powers earlier this year.

The deal sought to curb Iran’s atomic program in exchange for an easing of the sanctions that had crippled the country’s economy.

Trump criticized the deal for doing little to stop Iran’s interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East and its ballistic missile program.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.