Iran’s rogue regime has significantly advanced its cyber military capabilities over the last couple of years, now flaunting it as a “source of national pride,” according to a cyber security expert.
Experts fear Iran, already pursuing nuclear weapons as its leaders amp up their rhetoric against Israel, could mount a digital attack against the West or Israel in retaliation for crippling economic sanctions. Austin Heap, executive director of the Censorship Research Center, said the cyber buildup has gone on even as the world focused on Tehran’s drive to acquire nukes.
“Since (the Green Movement of) 2009, they made technology their priority,” said Heap, who also works on developing technologies for increasing Internet freedom.
Shortly after the 2009 elections, in which democracy-minded Iranians mounted a doomed effort to topple their government at the ballot box, Heap, a 28-year-old programmer living in Northern California, instructed Iranians on how to run proxy servers to access government-blocked Internet sites during the so-called “Twitter Revolution.”
The uprising was ultimately -- and brutally -- crushed. But it demonstrated the Iranian people’s ability to use the Internet and social media sites to organize and voice disenchantment against the regime.
“The government realized how behind their technology was, and since then, they have invested heavily in both their domestic network censorship and surveillance to boosting their offensive cyber capabilities to launch against their enemies,” Heap said.
Only recently, the Iranian regime denied involvement in a round of cyber attacks in which a virus infected servers and erased files in 30,000 computers at Saudi oil company Aramco. Oil pumped by Aramco has helped the West compensate for a drop in Iranian oil exports caused by Western-imposed sanctions.
A similar virus shut down banking sites across the US, preventing online activity, exposing vulnerabilities here. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the US was at risk of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor,” at a speech discussing the cyber sabotage.
"Before September 11, 2001, the warning signs were there,” Panetta said. “We weren't organized. We weren't ready. And we suffered terribly for that lack of attention. We cannot let that happen again. This is a pre-9/11 moment."
While not directly accusing the Iranian regime, he called the banking attack “the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date,” citing that Iran has “undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage,” according to the AP.
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