The Washington Post:

A fire at an Iranian nuclear plant is threatening to spark a major hacking conflict that could embroil U.S. industry.

Three Iranian officials have anonymously blamed a foreign cyberattack for the fire, which caused significant damage and threatens to slow the nation’s development of advanced centrifuges by months, Reuters reports. Other officials blamed the attack on a powerful bomb, the New York Times reports.

It's not clear if the fire itself was caused by a cyberattack, though some Iranian officials have suggested such attacks could have been launched by the United States or Israel. Regardless, Iran may respond in cyberspace where it faces a comparatively level playing field compared to conventional military conflict.

Iran’s top civil defense official has vowed to retaliate if cyberattacks are confirmed. “Responding to cyberattacks is part of the country’s defense,” Gholamreza Jalali told state television. “If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyberattack, we will respond.”

The inflammatory rhetoric comes as U.S. officials are already on alert for Iranian cyberattacks in response to the U.S. military's killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January. Experts have warned those attacks could target oil refineries, financial institutions and other vital U.S. infrastructure.

It also comes after a decade during which Iran has become increasingly belligerent in cyberspace including hacks against U.S. banks and universities.

An article by the state news agency IRNA accused the United States and Israel of crossing "red lines" and raised the specter of retaliation in the wake of the fire. 

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