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Circuitous Measures as Cyberwarfare Slams Iran

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Wirter: Jessica Snapper

National Security and Asymmetric Warfare: Welcome to the Middle East

In the face of growing tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, the Islamic Republic is increasingly reporting cyber-attacks targeting the country’s nuclear and industrial sectors, claiming that little damage has been caused by such efforts. In a statement released by the IRNA news agency today, Deputy Minister for Oil and Civil Defense Hamdollah Mohammadnejad denied that the country’s oil industry was harmed in any way following a recent attack from hackers targeting the sector’s computer systems. This is in line with Iran’s general policy of showing a strong face throughout the continuing onslaught against its “soft targets” in a bid to wreck the regime’s nuclear program by limited or non-military means.

National Security Iran

Suppose that the United States, in opposing Iran’s suspected development of nuclear weapons, decides that the best way to halt or slow Iran’s program is to undermine the Iranian banking system, calculating that the ensuing financial pressure would dissuade or prevent Iran from continuing on its current course. And further suppose that the United States draws up the following four options, all of which are believed likely to produce roughly the same impact on Iran’s financial system and have similar effects on Iran’s economy and population:

  • Military air strikes against key Iranian banking facilities to destroy some of the financial system’s physical infrastructure;
  • A regulatory cut-off of Iranian banks from the U.S. financial system, making it difficult for Iran to conduct dollarized transactions;
  • Covert flooding of the Iranian economy with counterfeit currency and other financial instruments;
  • Scrambling Iranian banking data by infiltrating and corrupting its financial sector’s computer networks.

The known cyber-attacks against Iran are sophisticated and relentless, requiring a well-resourced sponsor with supreme human capital and financial capacity. In other words, these advanced attacks are state-sponsored. The best known example is Stuxnet, which caused significant damage to Iran’s nuclear centrifuges back in June 2010. The attack is believed to have been sponsored by the U.S. and/or Israel, neither of which will confirm or deny their involvement.

Despite Iran’s public denial that such cyberwarfare is causing any real harm to its projects, a recent report revealed that Iran’s armed forces have created a special unit to defend against cyber-attacks, working closely with its defense, telecommunications and intelligence branches. Seems like Iran is feeling the heat after all.


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