Per the 2022 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a publication from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) “We assess that Iran will threaten U.S. persons directly and via proxy attacks, particularly in the Middle East. Iran also remains committed to developing networks inside the United States—an objective it has pursued for more than a decade.”
Additional findings from the report include the following:
- Iran’s growing expertise and willingness to conduct aggressive cyber operations make it a major threat to the security of U.S. and allied networks and data. Iran’s opportunistic approach to cyber attacks makes critical infrastructure owners in the United States susceptible to being targeted by Tehran, especially when Tehran believes it must demonstrate that it can push back against the United States in other domains. Recent attacks on Israeli and U.S. targets show that Iran is more willing than before to target countries with stronger capabilities.
- Iran was responsible for multiple cyber attacks between April and July 2020 against Israeli water facilities. Iran’s successful disruption of critical infrastructure in Israel—also a superior cyber power compared with Iran—reflects its growing willingness to take risks when it believes retaliation is justified.
While Iran’s cyber capabilities are often deemed secondary to the expertise of other nation-states—such as Russia, China, and North Korea—they’ve made considerable gains in recent years, thanks to their large ecosystem of hackers. From universities to underground tech communities, Iran’s cyber capabilities are on the move, and they’re looking to use their newfound digital weapons against the West.
According to a recent publication by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Iran continues to pursue its interests through cyber operations, engaging in attacks against its regional opponents, and espionage against other foreign governments. A better understanding of the history and strategic rationale of Iran’s cyber activities is critical to assessing Washington’s broader cyberwarfare posture against adversaries, and prudent US responses to future cyber threats from Iran and elsewhere.”
A current assessment of Iran’s cyber capabilities by various governmental agencies, think tanks, and other entities across the globe offers up the following conclusions:
- Iran’s cyber operations are becoming an increasingly important weapon of the Iranian state.
- Iran pushes hard to mask their cyber-warfare activities for ensuring plausible deniability.
- Iran’s cyber hackers are homegrown, with little—if any—training from outsiders.
- Iran’s cyber-security activities are not just limited to Western countries and other adversaries—they’ve been known to attack their own people with various espionage measures.
- It currently has no formal public policy with regard to cyberspace.
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