Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) speaks with foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi (R) next to a map of Iran at the presidential office in Tehran, Jan. 5, 2012.
Recent incidents in Iran, including cyber attacks against the nation’s pipeline and its refinery infrastructure have embarrassed Iran on the world stage. These latest two attacks are estimated to have had a quarter of a billion dollar financial impact on Iran.
Add the STUXNET attack which forced Iran to disclose their nuclear enrichment program had fallen victim to a sophisticated cyber assault. This triggered Iran to create cyber capabilities of its own with military cyber operations, university training programs and well funded cyber warfare research and development efforts.
Now add to that the fact that Iran has clearly demonstrated their intent to launch covert attacks on the United States. In January of 2012 Venezuela’s consul general in was ordered to leave the United States after it was discovered the planning of cyber attacks against White House, the FBI, the Pentagon and U.S. nuclear plants.
Iran’s investment and efforts have bolstered their cyber capabilities. The following are the current estimates of their cyber capabilities, on a five-point scale where 1 is low, 5 is high and 3 is average:
- Intent to gain world class cyber capabilities – 4.1
- Offensive cyber weapons development efforts – 3.4
- Cyber intelligence collection efforts – 3.8
- Overall composite estimate – 3.9
Source: Cyber Commander’s eHandbook
On April 26 2012, the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, examining the Iranian Cyber Threat to the U.S. Homeland, pointed to a statement from Ilan Berman, vice president of American Foreign Policy Council, which said:
“[...] over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace. Equally significant, its leaders now increasingly appear to view cyber warfare as a potential avenue of action against the United States. [...]
It should be noted that intelligence sources believe that Iran is receiving assistance in the cyber domain from Russia, China and even North Korea. With these relationships as well as the availability of fairly sophisticated cyber weapons on the black-market, Iran does have the opportunity to mount a fairly aggressive cyber campaign against the United States (public and private sectors)
Kevin G. Coleman is a long-time security technology executive and former Chief Strategist at Netscape. He is Senior Fellow with the Technolytics Institute where he provides consulting services on strategic technology and security issues. He writes a weekly blog for Breaking Gov on the topic of cyber intelligence.