Following a breach of the Australian parliament, experts pointed the finger at Iran, but other sources claimed that Iran lacked the skills necessary to conduct such a sophisticated operation. This is not true. British intelligence pointed to Iran after a similar attack on the British parliament in 2017, where hackers compromised dozens of lawmakers’ email accounts.
The US Intelligence Community concluded in its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment that Iranian hackers are only capable of “causing localized, temporary disruptive effects”, but cautioned about Iran’s “increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques” and that the Regime wants to attack the critical infrastructure of the US and its allies.
Indeed, in January, cyber security firm FireEye warned that Iranian operations pose a threat to “a wide variety of sectors and individuals on a global scale”, while the European Union concluded that Iran will likely “intensify state-sponsored cyber threat activities”.
In February, the US Justice Department actually unsealed an indictment against a US citizen and four Iranian operatives for targeting US intelligence agents with fake Facebook profiles. The targets were tricked into accepting friend requests and, in at least one case, adding the fake persona to a private Facebook group of government agents. This likely provided the hackers with more information and targets.
However, the targets were not convinced to click on malicious links and download malware from phishing emails, which is positive because the Justice Department said the operation would “have brought serious damage to the United States”.
Iranian hackers also targeted Israel’s home front missile alert system, according to the Israeli military’s outgoing cyber chief Brigadier-General Noam Sha’ar. This could have triggered false alerts, sending the country into a panic, or worse, prevented the sirens from activating when a missile was detected, so civilians wouldn’t know to take cover. Thankfully, the hackers were detected while the Israeli military’s cyber unit was tracking Iranian cyber groups and the threat was neutralised.
While we should not inflate Iran’s capabilities, we should certainly be aware of them.
Annie Fixler, the deputy director of the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote: “The United States can ill afford to dismiss Tehran’s capabilities as those of a third-tier cyber actor. An accurate assessment of the threat is the first step to defeating, thwarting, and deterring the Islamic Republic’s cyber army.”