While the world was busy helping Iran benefit from the nuclear deal, new charges came to light linking Iran to a different type of military activity – cyber attacks against the US in the years 2011-2013, leading to new public accusations against Iran by the US.
According to the recent indictment, the hackings – which were carried out by seven Iranians with ties to Iran’s government and Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – targeted 46 banks, financial institutions, and their customers across the US, for as many as 12 hours at a time. The state-sponsored hackers also attempted to gain control of a dam in a suburb of New York City, albeit unsuccessfully.
Although the suspected hackers were indicted in recent weeks, Iran went on denying the allegations that they were tied to its government, claiming that it was a victim of cyber attacks rather than a perpetrator. News outlets, however, pointed to the existence of an Iranian “cyber army,” commanded directly by the IRGC, in which Iran began investing heavily following the Green Movement protests of 2009. According to Al-Arabiya’s Majid Rafizadeh, as the high-profile hackings would suggest, this cyber-force is engaged in offense rather than defense.
What does this mean for the future of Iran’s relations with Western nations?
Although the alleged cyber attacks took place a few years ago, accumulating evidence shows that not only has Tehran not ceased its dangerous “cyber army” activities, but it is on an increase. The Tower, in an article termed “Iran has built an army of cyber-proxies” states “when it comes to supporting these private cyber-actors, Iran is the worst offender. And the longer we wait, the more powerful they will grow”.
Time magazine, for example, warns that cyber-crime is the future of warfare, giving Iran the ability to damage vulnerable “critical infrastructure” anywhere in the world (a database of which, according to this report, it has already begun to build).
Some media outlets tied the cyber-crime issue to that of Iran’s recent provocations in the missile department. Administration officials, according to the Washington Post, stated that the unsealing of the indictment against the Iranian hackers could lead to the imposition of further sanctions against Iran, specifically for malicious cyber activity.
It’s difficult to mistake these signs of enduring hostility for signals of rapprochement.