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Utah cybersecurity team thwarts Iran digital intrusion attempts

Security analyst Aubrey Garrett works at the Utah Cyber Center at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, as reporters interview Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in the background.
Security analyst Aubrey Garrett works at the Utah Cyber Center at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the weekend, Utah state cybersecurity experts took measures to thwart an uptick in digital intrusion efforts coming from Iran and targeting state government websites.

The Iranian traffic, which was not a hacking attempt but automated digital surveillance aiming to identify vulnerabilities in state computer systems, follows the U.S. assassination last week of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.

National cybersecurity experts at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin two days after Soleimani was killed warning state and municipal entities that “Iranian leadership and several affiliated violent extremist organizations publicly stated they intend to retaliate against the United States” and noted the country has highly developed cyberattack assets.

“Iran maintains a robust cyber program and can execute cyberattacks against the United States,” the bulletin read. “Iran is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States.”

Utah Department of Technology Services spokeswoman Stephanie Weteling said the intrusion attempts were not successful and cybersecurity personal were successful in blocking the nefarious traffic once it was detected.

“On Sunday we saw an uptick in the number of attempts to get into our network and were able to tell that traffic was coming from Iran,” Weteling said. “Our cybersecurity team immediately put countermeasures in place and haven’t seen anything since then.”

Weteling noted that these types of surveillance attempts have become commonplace and the state now sees similar traffic at the volume of 1 billion per day. Almost all of this activity sources from automated “bots” that are programmed to assess weaknesses and vulnerabilities in websites and other digital infrastructure.

FBI cyber task force member Sgt. Jeffrey Plan of the Utah Department of Public Safety said, as of Thursday morning, his agency had not received any reports of Iranian activity targeting private sector digital systems in Utah.