Iran has demonstrated a willingness to attack the United States and the intent to develop a cyber war capability, eclipsing Russia and China as a threat to the nation, a panel of policy and technical experts told House lawmakers.Iran has not yet shown any serious expertise in cyberwar capabilities, certainly not on par with Russian or Chinese hackers. However, the time it takes to ramp up that ability can be measured in months, not years.
“Iran appears to be moving from defensive to offensive in the way it thinks about cyberspace,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, in an April 26 hearing before joint subcommittees of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Berman called an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, uncovered in October, credible and said it is an example of the country’s willingness to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. He said it would be unreasonable to expect Iran could balk at a cyberattack against U.S. critical infrastructure.
“Iran is not at the top of the list” of cyber adversaries, said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. Those spots usually are given to Russia and China. “But what it lacks in capability, it makes up for in intent.”
Iran also is investing heavily in developing a cyber war capability, having established an Iranian Cyber Army that has taken credit for attacking the online services of the U.S. Voice of America last year. “Intent and cash will take you a long way,” Cilluffo said.
The joint hearing of the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, and Counterterrorism and Intelligence subcommittees, was called to assess the threat posed by Iran in cyberspace.
In an April 24 hearing before the Homeland Security Committee's Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee, James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he was not worried about cyber war with Russia and China, with whom the United States has stable diplomatic relationships. “They aren’t going to start a war just for fun. I don’t know if we can say that for Iran and North Korea,” Lewis said.
Not to mention that there are plenty of relatively easy targets that could still severely impact the infrastructure of the US, or any country, if taken down. Denial-of-service attacks are easy to do and hard to defend against.