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The Emerging Iranian Cyber Threat

Iran’s developing nuclear capability is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, as is its capability to do damage around the Gulf and in Israel should a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear facilities occur. But NBC reports that Iran has been working on its cyberattack capabilities, and has been flexing its muscles for the past week or so against some of America’s biggest banks:

The attack is described by one source, a former U.S. official familiar with the attacks, as being “significant and ongoing” and looking to cause “functional and significant damage.” Also, one source suggested the attacks were in response to U.S. sanctions on Iranian banks.

The consumer banking website of Bank of America was unavailable to some customers on Tuesday, and JPMorgan Chase on Wednesday had the same problems, which multiple sources linked to a denial-of-service attack, in which a website is bogged down by a large number of requests. A Chase spokesman said Wednesday that the consumer site was intermittently unavailable to some customers, but did not acknowledge then that there was an attack. On Thursday, Chase said slowness continued but was resolved by late afternoon Eastern Time. Bank of America acknowledged on Tuesday that its site had experienced slowness, but would not say what caused it.

Reuters has more details on the story, with sources indicating that the line between the state and private hackers is not particularly distinct in this case:

The attacks on the three largest U.S. banks originated in Iran, but it is not clear if they were launched by the state, groups working on behalf of the government, or “patriotic” citizens, according to the sources, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

They said the attacks shed new light on the potential for Iran to lash out at Western nations’ information networks.

It’s notable, however, that this kind of attack, known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), is particularly crude when compared to something like the Stuxnet virus, which ravaged Iran’s nuclear program more than two years ago. It’s crudeness, however, belies its effectiveness. It’s a brave new world of warfare out there, one which will reach citizens otherwise far away from the physical battlefield.

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