Saudi group hacks Iranian website: A cyber war ahead?

Alwaght- Saudi hackers have launched a small-scale attack on an unimportant Iranian website, giving rise to the questions that if the attack would mean onset of a cyber war between Riyadh and Tehran, and if the Saudis could defend against massive Iranian cyber-attacks once the cyber conflict sparks.

On Wednesday morning a group hacked the website belonging to Statistical Center of Iran, sending the site down for a short time, and putting an image from its own on the main page.

The hacking group has called itself “Daes” and officially claimed responsibility for the cyber assault.

Daes sounds like “Daesh”, and so many people could mix it up with the Arabic name of ISIS terrorist organization.

The hackers have announced themselves to be Saudi on the first page of the hacked Iranian site, but they put on show on the main page a picture of the former dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein, possibly signaling that they are ideologically close to the Ba’athists and takfiris.

Analysis

Ten days ago, Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, officially said that the Saudis were eyeing cyber-attacks against the Islamic Republic. Although the warning initially was hard to believe, but now it has taken place in practice as the Saudis showed that they really were seeking massive cyber war on Iran.

Earlier Brigadier General Jalali had asserted that cyber assaults could be the major threats against Iran in 2016.

“One of the most essential threats for us in the current year is the cyber threat, and should there is a military threat against us, it would be certainly preceded by a serious cyber threat because the means to destroy balance in a national level is the cyber war,” added Brigadier General Jalali.

Now with the remarkable boost in information technology and use of cutting-edge facilities in different fields, the cyberspace catches the eyes of any threatening factor. Many countries have added cyber army to their regular air, navy and ground forces, and so established a new force to thwart cyber-attacks or launch cyber assaults.

The US, for example, in recent years has formed a cyber command post with full military administration and headed by a US army general. Founded in 2009 by Robert Gates, then-Secretary of Defense of the US, the US cyber command post- or USCYBERCOM in short- is active as a branch of the United States Strategic Command.

In addition to the US, other powers like France, Germany, and even the EU as a unified body, in recent years have established similar commands tasked with cyber activities including safeguarding the country’s cyberspace, launching cyber-attacks and administrating the country’s cyberspace.

In Iran, the Passive Defense Organization (PDO) is majorly responsible for thwarting and responding to cyber-attacks on the country. Working actively during the past few years, Iran’s PDO has largely blocked ways of any possible cyber assaults against the country’s vital centers. General cyber defense and nuclear cyber defense are the major fields of activity of PDO. It has done significant works both to stymie attacks and to launch offensives in cyberspace.

PDO in recent years had some considerable performances, the most important of which perhaps is discovery of the malicious Stuxnet worm. The experts of PDO a couple of years ago detected Stuxnet worm and also found about its commanding sources as well as its infiltration loopholes, and designed ways to foil its destructivity.

The cyber worm detection by PDO could be considered as bright and considerable as hacking the US stealth drone RQ-170 by Iran. The cyber command of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), part of Iran’s PDO, detected, hacked, intercepted and took down the US state-of-the-art drone with no damage to its body in 2011. Two years later, Tehran unveiled a reverse engineered version of the high-tech American stealth drone.

Now the PDO experts are researching in a special laboratory on the Suxnet virus. They made discoveries on its potentials and influences and produced its special antiviruses. They also cleaned up the affected facilities with the purely Iranian antivirus.

This is just one of remarkable Iranian activities in cyberspace. The PDO also safeguarded the country’s ministries, institutions and organizations. The outcome of safeguarding process becomes clear when we get back to 2012 in which Iran’s oil ministry came under cyber-attack. The attack was effectively foiled by PDO. The attack affected motherboards of computers of oil ministry and deleted all of the data on the computers.

The attack was aimed against Iran’s fuel transportation systems as well as smart fuel distribution systems, however, it was foiled and so the country’s petrol stations suffered no jam-up.

The Saudi hackers have attacked and managed to down the insignificant government website which due to its triviality was not included in cyber safeguarding processes. This attack in cyber equations and online attacks would not mean much of a cyber assault.

Having in mind that cyber-attacks are a primary choice in wars and inflict large-scale damages with lowest costs, cyber defense and cyber war have caught attention of many today’s countries. Iran is not an exception. Yesterday’s attack on the Iranian website could be the first shot of a Saudi-Iranian cyber war.

Certainly Iran is one of the global cyber superpowers. Experts of US-based Defense Tech institute have asserted that Iran was world’s cyber power. This comment on Iran’s cyber capabilities has emerged after an Iranian cyber group calling itself Iranian Cyber Army hacked some important websites and accounts including the micro-blogging website Twitter, the CIA’s account on Twitter, many anti-Iranian websites and Facebook and Google servers, and made statements on the hacked sites in Farsi, the Iranian official language.

The Americans also claimed Iranian hackers in their last project hacked a couple of US banks, and Washington even said Iranian hackers attacked New York Dam. A report published by the US Department of Justice, has told of hacking command computers of Bowman Avenue Dam in New York by an Iranian hacking group.

Tehran, however, has decline so far to confirm if it had cyber army and if it was engaged in an organized cyber defense activity. But what is clear is that Iran is highly active in cyberspace and firmly confronts cyber-attacks.

IRGC’s Chief Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari in 2009 said that one of measures of his organization within eight months was “foiling the cultural threats and cyber-attacks.”

Major General Jafari in the same year also said that the IRGC would develop its cyber war capabilities.

Now, Saudi Arabia- with no advanced cyber capabilities has hacked an insignificant Iranian site. The questions present themselves: is this a prelude to Saudi cyber war against Iran? Could Saudis defend themselves once Iran launches counter-cyber assaults?

Let’s wait and see obviously how the Iranian Cyber Army would respond to Riyadh’s small cyber-attack. It is very likely that Tehran holds convenient options at its disposal should it decides to reply to the Saudis.

By Alwaght