US unveils sanctions targeting Iran drone, cyber programs in wake of deadly proxy strike

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The Biden administration on Friday announced separate sanctions targeting the cyber arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and networks contributing to the Islamic Republic’s drone-weapon program.

The sanctions follow a fatal drone attack on an American base in Jordan by an Iranian-backed proxy in Iraq, and ahead of an expected military retaliation by the U.S. against Iranian assets in the region. 

Among those targeted in sanctions are the head of Iran’s IRGC-Cyber-Electronic command and five senior officials. The U.S. said the cyber unit is responsible for a series of malicious cyber activities targeting critical infrastructure in the U.S. and other countries.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the sanctions imposed Friday were taken in response to IRGC-affiliated cyber actors’ recent operations that hacked into programmable logic controllers, used in water and other critical infrastructure and displayed an anti-Israel message.

“Although this particular operation fortunately did not disrupt any critical services, unauthorized access to critical infrastructure systems poses an elevated risk of harm to the public and can result in devastating humanitarian consequences,” Miller said.

In December, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Israel’s National Cyber Directorate told The Associated Press that water authorities in the U.S. came under threat from Iranian-backed cyber actors that breached computer systems that operated Israeli-made software.

In a separate action announced Friday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on four Iran- and Hong Kong-based entities, including front companies, identified as supplying critical parts for Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs, including the Shahed-series drones.

“Iranian-made UAVs are used to commit acts of terror, including dozens of attacks by Iran-aligned militia groups on U.S. personnel that have resulted in the deaths of U.S. soldiers. Iran-backed Houthis have also launched attacks on commercial vessels and U.S. naval assets using Iranian-made UAVs and missiles,” Miller said.

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