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US opted for diplomacy over hacking to curb Iran cyberattacks in 2012

US opted for diplomacy over hacking to curb Iran cyberattacks in 2012

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Throughout 2012, an ongoing series of distributed denial of service attacks crippled a number of American's biggest banks, including Bank of America, PNC, and HSBC — attacks that are believed to have attributed from Iran, possibly as retribution for the US-funded Flame and Stuxnet malware that was meant to attack Iran's nuclear weapons program. Now, The Washington Post has revealed details on the US response to those attacks, and the response was surprisingly diplomatic from a country that has come under fire recently for the NSA's incredibly aggressive data collection tactics.

According to the report, the Obama administration decided against hacking into Iran's network to shut down the source of the attacks, an approach that was deemed "too provocative." Instead, it took the rather unprecedented action of working with 120 nations to stop the attack at various network nodes around the globe. The plan involved a combination of outreach from both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to their counterparts to handle both the diplomatic and technical aspects of the US response.

The countries cooperating with the US were able to "sinkhole" the malicious traffic, keeping it from reaching the intended targets. While these efforts didn't entirely curb the DDoS attacks, it reduced traffic enough that the banking sites were able to resume normal operations; eventually, the attackers gave up their efforts.

Some officials believed the US response wasn't enough to prevent future attacks  — "the effort didn't hinder the adversary's objectives in the least," says one former defense official who was pushing for a more aggressive response. However, Chris Painter, the State Department's coordinator for cyber issues, said that the efforts were "very helpful in building that cooperative framework, and many countries were able to help."