Sony wasn't the only US company to face a cyberattack by a foreign power this year. According to a bombshell exclusive from Businessweek, Iranian hackers penetrated systems for the Sands Hotel and Casino this February. With no apparent financial motive, attackers seized comprehensive employee information and brought the company's systems to a standstill. All told, the attack wiped out three quarters of the company's Vegas-based servers, which insiders estimate cost the company more than $40 million in equipment costs and data recovery alone.
"Encouraging the use of WMD...is a crime"
The attack seems to have been provoked by a speech Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson made the previous October. Adelson, a staunch defender of Israel, had advocated for stronger threats of nuclear attacks against Iran, going so far as to suggest detonating a nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert as a warning of what would happen if Tehran continued its nuclear program. In response, the attackers left a message on company servers: "Encouraging the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, UNDER ANY CONDITION, is a Crime." The note was signed from the "Anti WMD Team." They also took down company websites, replacing them with a photograph of Adelson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The attack is strongly believed to have been sponsored by Iran and, together with recent attacks against Sony, sets a dangerous precedent for state attacks against privately held companies. In both cases, the US intelligence services' billion-dollar Cyber Command facilities were not much use in defending against the attacks or mitigating the damage once it had been done. As former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden told Businessweek, "If this would have come across my desk when I was in government, I would have just put it in the outbox."