Iran’s cyber soldiers are going to be a force to be reckoned with, the head of the US military cyber operations has warned.
Iran’s cyber capabilities have been growing ever since the 2010 Stuxnet attack on Iran’s Natanz uranium processing plant, General William Shelton said in a media briefing.
Repeated cyber attacks on Iran’s key industrial installations have forced the country into improving its defensive and offensive cyber capabilities.
In October 2012, US intelligence officials said there is growing evidence Iran was behind cyber attacks that disabled computers across the Saudi oil industry.
Shelton said Iran had used this capability to protect itself against subsequent cyber attacks, but warned that it could turn this capability on its enemies.
Shelton's comments come soon after a senior Iranian commander said it had growing “electronic warfare" capabilities that it planned to use to disrupt what it called enemy communication systems, according to the BBC.
Shelton revealed that US cyber-forces were set to increase to around 7,000 by the end of the year to bolster defences against cyber attacks on military networks.
He said the cyber-forces would also gather intelligence and were developing the ability to carry out hack attacks in support of traditional military operations.
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Shelton’s warning comes just days after cyber security researchers reported the existence of a major cyber espionage campaign that has been targeting diplomatic, governmental and scientific research organisations for several years.
Targets of the campaign, dubbed Red October, include countries in Western Europe and North America. But the main targets are in Eastern Europe, the former USSR and Central Asia, according to a research report by security firm Kaspersky Lab.
The main objective of the attackers was to gather sensitive documents from the compromised organisations, which included geopolitical intelligence, credentials to access classified computer systems and data from personal mobile devices and network equipment.
The cyber espionage network was discovered when Kaspersky Lab began an investigation after a series of attacks against computer networks targeting international diplomatic service agencies in October 2012.
Researchers said the cyber espionage campaign is still active and dates back as far as 2007.