The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
America Strikes Back in US-Iran Cyberwar

Even as pundits debate the possibility of war with Iran, America and the Islamic Republic are already fighting an undeclared war in cyberspace. Last week, Defense Secretary Panetta confirmed that a possible Iranian cyber-strike against Saudi Arabia’s Aramco succeeded in damaging some of its vital infrastructure two monts ago. This week came further proof that America is already hitting back: researchers discovered a new variant of the Western-developed cyber espionage virus “Flame”, reports the Financial Times.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab, an internet security company, said on Monday that the variant, called Mini-Flame, came from the same “cyber-weapon factory” responsible for other malware discovered this year, including the Flame and Gauss platforms, as well as the Stuxnet programme used against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010.

Mini-Flame is described as “a tool used for highly targeted attacks, which was used only against objects having the greatest significance and posing the greatest interest to the attackers”. Kaspersky said Mini-Flame had been found in Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and was spread with other malware such as Flame and Gauss.

Cyberwar hasn’t received the same press attention as its kinetic cousin, but its frequency and its impact is only going to grow. Many countries have already devoted a significant portion of their military budgets to developing the capability to launch and defend against cyberwarfare, and those that haven’t will soon come to regret it.

[Update: The original version of this post misstated the date of the Iranian cyber-attack on Aramco. This error has been corrected.]

Published on October 17, 2012 9:00 am