The Iranian Cyber Army is Still a Maturing Threat
October 2, 2013
Part 3 of the Iranian Cyber Threat Blog Series
Despite impressive advances, Iran’s cyber capabilities are still emerging when compared to those of China, Russia and the United States. Even the country’s leader in offensive cybersecurity, the Iranian Cyber Army (ICA), is still not quite up to par with the world’s other leading cyber hackers, but if they continue on their current path of attacks then they will definitely turn into a more competitive force within the global cyber arena. To learn more about the evolution of the ICA read Part 2 (The Iranian Cyber Army) of this three-part series on the Iranian Cyber Threat.
The Effect of Iran’s Cyber Growth for the US
Most technical experts consider the cyber threat posed by the Iranian regime as more modest than that posed by either Moscow or Beijing, at least for the moment. However, Iran’s activities and advancements in cyberspace should be of extreme concern to American policymakers, for several reasons:
The lack of proficiencies that currently exists in Iran’s ability to carry out significant cyber-attacks against United States critical infrastructures could be easily obtained. Iran has the opportunity readily available to improve their cyber capabilities and begin executing more crippling attacks on any nation’s critical resources, especially within the United States (Learn more about the grave impacts associated with this category of attacks on our blog, 2013 The Year of the Cyber-War). This is due to the fact that the Islamic Republic can easily acquire resources whether human or technological, comparatively cheaply and quickly from gray and black market sources. They have the opportunity at their fingertips it’s just a matter of when they decide to take it.
The second reason the U.S. needs to be concerned about Iran’s next move on the cyber front is the intent the country has built up over recent years. Iranian nuclear facilities have been assaulted at least five times over the past two years, and the Stuxnet virus, which infected Iran’s nuclear plants, is widely reported to have been developed by the U.S. and Israel. As a result, Iranian officials have concluded that cyber confrontation with west has already begun. Israeli infrastructures already receive non-stop attacks originating from Iran in retaliation of this virus. These Israeli attacks along with other recent cyber-attacks that Iran has carried out strongly imply that the Iranian regime is both willing and able to retaliate.
No Diplomatic Relations
Finally, Iran is a different cyber actor from Russia, China or even North Korea. Although both the PRC and the Russian Federation actively engage in cyber surveillance against the United States, they have never took any action that resulted in breakdown of diplomatic relations with Washington. Iran, by contrast, has not had any diplomatic relation with the United States for over 34 years and could very well countenance exactly such a course of action in the not too distant future. In general, United States officials believe that Iran prefers to avoid direct confrontation with the United States because regime preservation is its top priority; however, this could change rapidly in the event of a further deterioration of the current, tense standoff between the international community and Iran over its extensive nuclear program.
There’s Still Hope
There are experts that are hopeful that the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, manages to ease some of tension and concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and opens a new chapter for a new and better relationship between Iran and the rest of the international community. If tensions can be eased, this will undoubtedly decrease the cyber threat imposed by Iran to the United States and its allies.