The Obama administration is expected to prosecute Iranian hackers as soon as Thursday for a coordinated campaign of cyberattacks in 2012 and 2013 on several US banks and a New York dam.
The US Department of Justice prepared an indictment against some six Iranians according to anonymous government sources. The expected indictments would be the highest-profile hacking charges against foreign nationals in US history.
Early reports suggest that Justice Department officials will hold a news conference on Thursday morning to announce the charges, with potential links directly to the Iranian government. The banks subjected to the hacks will not be identified in the indictment.
A pending indictment for a breach of the computer systems at the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye Brook, New York, had been previously reported several weeks ago, but the coming indictment is expected to show that the dam hack was part of a broader, coordinated system of hacks at the behest of the Iranian government.
The breach of the dam computers did not expose operational control of the floodgates, but investigators fear that the hackers were testing capabilities for future kinetic attacks against the US.
This isn’t the first time that the US government has responded to hacking attacks coordinated by foreign governments. In 2014, the Obama administration condemned North Korea, many experts say mistakenly, for hacking Sony Pictures and pledged to "respond proportionately." That same year the Justice Department tried a similar case charging five members of the Chinese military with hacking into US computer networks.
The pending indictment against Iranian official comes at a time of reduced tensions between Washington and Tehran following the historic 2015 nuclear agreement. The possibility of Iranian retaliation exists, given the country’s history of cyberwarfare. In 2010, the US and Israel sabotaged Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program by infecting their computer systems with the Stuxnet virus.