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The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) has released a brief report which examines developments in Iran’s cyber warfare strategies over the course of 2013, which indicates that the nation has propelled itself from a “third tier” country with regards to their cyber capabilities to “one of the most active players in the international cyber arena.”

“Iran’s progress can be attributed to a combination of two elements: a certain easing of the restraints on offensive activity in cyberspace by Iranian decision makers, and a qualitative leap by the Iranian cyber warfare system,” the report states. “This major advance by Iran has surprised many Western experts in terms of its scope, its professional sophistication, and the ambitious choice of targets.”

On the defensive side of the coin, Iran has apparently applied lessons learned from internal political dissent in the digital realm as well as the infamous Stuxnet attacks that set its ambitious nuclear program back as much as several years, according to the authors, who say they see evidence that Iran has made significant gains in three key areas:

  • Creating a defense envelope against cyber attacks on critical infrastructures
  • Neutralizing cyber operations by opposition elements and regime opponents
  • Keeping Western ideas and content out of Iranian cyberspace

“It appears that as of today, the Iranian cyber defense system still has a long way to go in coping effectively and consistently with highly sophisticated cyber attacks such as Stuxnet,” the report asserts. “But Iran’s technological and organizational leap in the past year indicates that the Iranians could formulate a comprehensive and effective defense system sooner than anticipated.”

As for offensive capabilities, Iran sees the opportunity for cyberspace to level the playing field with regards to its perceived adversaries in the West who maintain a “clear military superiority,” while difficulties with attribution for attacks allows them a “a margin of denial.”

“During 2013, cyber warfare became a key tool used by Iran to attack Western targets in response to the sanctions and as a means of deterring escalation by Western countries against Iran,” the report continued. “The scope, targets, and relative success of those cyber attacks of the past year ascribed to Iran show its improved capabilities.”

“The rapid development of Iran’s cyber warfare capability and that of its proxies and allies means that Israel and other Western countries must work decisively and systematically to maintain qualitative and operational superiority in cyberspace.”

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