IssuesStatewide NewsTexas Department of Agriculture Website Hacked to Show Photo of Soleimani

Hours after Gov. Abbott warned of increased cyberattack attempts directed at state entities, the Texas Department of Agriculture's website was defaced to show a picture of Qassem Soleimani.
January 9, 2020
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On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Agriculture suffered a cyber attack from self-proclaimed Iranian hackers who replaced the normal imagery on the department’s website with a photo of recently killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Alongside the picture of Soleimani, a message reading “Hacked by Iranian Hacker” and “Hacked by Shield Iran” was displayed across the page. 

Although the website has been restored to its normal design and no data has been reported stolen at this time, the FBI is currently investigating the incident in coordination with state agencies, including the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), to determine the culprits and gather additional information about the source of the attack. 

According to the DIR, “The Department of Agriculture responded quickly and the website has been restored.”

“At this time, DIR is not aware of any additional website defacements beyond the incident reported by the Texas Department of Agriculture on January 07, 2020,” the representative continued in an email to The Texan

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The attack comes just days after Soleimani, an Iranian commander responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in the Middle East and the maiming of thousands more, was killed in a U.S. airstrike at the direction of President Trump. 

On January 4, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a notice, warning of potential escalations and threats to the United States from Iran following the death of Soleimani. 

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

The cyber defacement occurred the same day Gov. Abbott held a roundtable of the Domestic Terrorism Task Force in Austin, in which he attributed the DIR with uncovering an increased number of attack attempts on state agencies from Iran at the rate of approximately 10,000 attacks per minute in a 48-hour timeframe.  

Alongside Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and other state officials, Gov. Abbott cautioned the public about potential threats during the meeting, though no attack directed at a state department had been successful at that time. 

Earlier this year, the DIR confirmed more than 20 Texas government entities were victimized by a targeted ransomware attack. 

Though the source of Texas department’s website defacement remains publicly unknown, cybersecurity experts caution that if the culprits truly are Iranian hackers, they could move to larger infrastructure targets in the coming future. 

On Tuesday, Iran launched a series of missile attacks at American and Iraqi forces as an act of retaliation for Soleimani’s death. 

No American or Iraqi forces were harmed in the series of attacks.

At a press conference on Wednesday, President Trump indicated that Iran appeared to be “standing down” and expressed an openness to de-escalating tensions between the two countries.

In light of the attack targeting American forces in the region, however, President Trump announced that new economic sanctions would be imposed on Iran, a country long known for aiding and abetting Islamic terror groups like Hezbollah.

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.