Iran Says New Cyber Warfare Is Attack on Economy

Iran is blaming the U.S., U.K. and Israel for the new cyber attack that struck the Internet and communications systems of its Oil Ministry and national oil company, Iranian media has announced. The Islamic regime says the West is not only going after its nuclear facilities, now it's going after its economy.

The regime said it immediately disconnected all Internet systems at its main oil export terminal at Kharq Island. Iranian officials last November acknowledged that a second computer virus, named Duqu and labeled "Son of Stuxnet," had spread to Iranian nuclear sites and other facilities.

Duqu uses much of the same codes as the 2010 Stuxnet, but instead of destroying the system it affects, it penetrates the system and creates "back door" vulnerabilities that can destroy the networks at the command of its creators at a chosen time.

The Stuxnet virus, which originally infected Iranian nuclear facilities, interrupted both the Natanz enrichment facility, where over 1,000 centrifuges were destroyed, and the Bushehr nuclear power plant, where it caused major operational delays. Iranian officials blamed the earlier attacks on the U.S. and Israel.

At the time, Iran announced that it would retaliate, and an editorial in Iran's Keyhan newspaper, the mouthpiece of Iran's supreme leader, warned that "Americans are under the (mistaken) impression that they are the only ones who can strike violent blows against their most ardent opponents and not sustain any damage. America needs to worry about an unknown player, sitting in some corner of the world, who would launch an attack on America's infrastructure."

A special report on Iran's media outlet on Wednesday indicated that the cyber warfare against Iran has now intensified.

The report reveals that after the recent cyber attack on Iran's oil infrastructure, information has been obtained that a joint team from the U.S., U.K. and Israel was behind the most recent attack.

"It has been six months that almost every day there has been a big cyber attack, which has so far been neutralized," the editorial said, citing an informed expert. "The aggressors have tried hard to protect their identity, but Iranian experts have now concluded that, one, these attacks are taking place from special units within the Israeli army and intelligence with full knowledge of its government, and two, America and England have provided full technical assistance for these attacks. Even NSA (America's National Security Agency) has formed a special unit for cyber warfare on Iran, and MI5 (England's intelligence service) also has provided technicians and assistance to Israel to conduct these attacks."

The editorial, citing the expert, points to an important change in tactics by the West: "In the past six months, the cyber attacks by the West, instead of on our military and nuclear installations, have been focused on economic installations. The purpose for such refocus is to create problems and interruption for services for the people and therefore create dissatisfaction among the populace."

The West is having a hard time achieving its goals as most of Iran's essential industries work offline and are not connected to the Internet, the expert told the media outlet, and the only way to infect those are by agents on the ground.

"It is important to note that the recent attacks on Iran's facilities by Israel, England and the U.S. are a reaction to attacks on their own infrastructure," the editorial said, citing the expert.

As reported last year, the Islamic regime has concluded that the U.S. power grids represent the best opportunity for a cyber attack, as more U.S. utilities are moving their control systems to the Internet and using smart-grid technology.

Security specialists warned Congress Thursday that Iran is recruiting an army of hackers to target the U.S. power grid, water systems and other facilities for a cyber attack.

Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, told the House Homeland Security subcommittee: "Over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities. Equally significant, its leaders now increasingly appear to view cyber warfare as a potential avenue of action against the United States."

Berman warned that in the coming months as America confronts Iran's nuclear program, there is a potential for retaliation by the Iranian regime at vital U.S. infrastructure facilities, with devastating effects.

According to reports from the U.S. Department of Energy, America's power grid remains vulnerable to cyber attack, a result of slow implementation of computer security standards. A successful cyber attack on the North American power grid systems could disrupt the economy and possibly create a national trauma.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the author of the award winning book, A Time to Betray. He is a senior Fellow with EMPact America, a member of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and teaches at the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy (JCITA).