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There are some big names in the cyber-warfare world: the United States, obviously, as well as Israel, Russia, China, and a few others. In recent years, however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been steadily developing its cyber offensive capabilities, and already poses a veritable threat.
Iran’s development of its cyber potential began quite recently. The Islamic Republic started on this course following the wave of protests that erupted after the 2009 election. Heavy investment into social media platforms, cyber-welfare programmes, and surveillance operations brought about a tectonic change in how Iran does technology. Tehran poured more than $1 billion into developing cyber infrastructure, recruitment (reportedly more than 100,000 personnel were taken on), and procurement of surveillance technology, mainly from China.
Then, in 2012, the Supreme Council on Cyberspace was established under orders from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Under the Council’s charge, Iran’s cyber policy solidified as offensive and proactive. Unable to win a full-out war against its adversaries, and knowing it, Iran developed the fourth largest cyber army in the world. “We have armed ourselves with new tools, because a cyber war is more dangerous than a physical war,” said Abdollah Araqi, deputy commander of ground forces in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.
Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) said that “IRGC clearly makes the country one of the best and most advanced nation when it comes to cyberwarfare. In a case of escalation between Iran and the West, Iran will likely aim to launch a cyberattack against critical infrastructures in the United States and its allies, including energy infrastructure, financial institutions, transportation systems, and other.”
Two demonstrations of Tehran’s offensive cyber capabilities clearly affirm Iran’s position as a cyber force to be reckoned with. The computer systems of major American financial institutions were attacked in 2013 at an unprecedented level. US intelligence officials clearly stated that they found a link between the attacks and the Islamic Republic, as well as the “Shamoon” virus that attacked the computers of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil corporation.
Iran is quickly adapting to the modern world, utilising its tools to both control dissent within the country, and to project its force outside of it. The world would be foolish to not take notice.