State-sponsored hackers have conducted a series of destructive attacks on Saudi Arabia over the last two weeks, erasing data and wreaking havoc in the computer banks of the agency running the country’s airports and hitting five additional targets, according to two people familiar with an investigation into the breach.
Saudi Arabia said after inquiries from Bloomberg News that “several” government agencies were targeted in attacks that came from outside the kingdom, according to state media. No further details were provided.
Although a probe by Saudi authorities is still in its early stages, the people said digital evidence suggests the attacks emanated from Iran. That could present President-elect Donald Trump with a major national security challenge as he steps into the Oval Office.
The use of offensive cyber weapons by a nation is relatively rare and the scale of the latest attacks could trigger a tit-for-tat cyber war in a region where capabilities have mushroomed ever since an attack on Saudi Aramco in 2012.
Unlike the Aramco attack or the one by North Korea against Sony Pictures in 2014, the latest was perpetrated by detonating a cyber weapon inside the networks of several targets at once, the people said. Concerns over a broader campaign set off a search in computer networks throughout the Gulf for more traces of the digital bomb.
No one was available to comment at the Iranian foreign ministry or at the Iranian presidency’s media relations department. Wednesday was a public holiday and Thursday is the start of the Iranian week-end.