Potential cyberattacks

People gather for a memorial for Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, at Iran's consulate in Istanbul, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Soleimani, Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soar in the wake of the targeted killing. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

An LSU-affiliated expert says the threat of domestic cyberattacks is higher following the recent killing of an Iranian military leader.

While ransomware attacks recently have plagued Louisiana state and local governments, an attack from Iran likely would have more high-profile targets in mind.

“I don’t think they would attack a Louisiana state government anything,” said Jeff Moulton, executive director of the Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training, established by LSU. “They’re going to go after something that has impact at a national level.” 

That could include the Super Bowl, or the major-college football national championship game that will be held in New Orleans Jan. 13 with both President Donald Trump and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expected to be in attendance. Dams and power grids are other possible targets, he said.

Moulton said the federal government’s “information operations condition” threat level, known as INFOCON, likely has been raised.

“I’m sure that’s occurred,” Moulton said. “I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s the normal protocol when we sense there may be some sort of an imminent threat.”

There are five levels of INFOCON, similar to the DEFCON levels also used by the United States military.

Trump said Friday that the airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful Iranian commander, was ordered “to stop a war” and prevented attacks on Americans. 

Iranian leaders have vowed revenge for the killing, which Trump warned against. Moulton said cyber warfare is attractive to Iran in part because cyberattacks can have a large impact for a relatively small investment.

Iran has “notable” cyberattack capability, Moulton said, potentially using third parties as a way to avoid admitting responsibility.

The United States and Israel are thought to have created a cyber weapon called Stuxnet that set back Iran’s nuclear development.

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