Little more than a week after Iran announced preparations to switch to an internal Internet system, cyberwar paid a visit.
The attacks were aimed at "infrastructure and communications companies," according to Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, Secretary of the High Council of Cyberspace. Whether or not the exploits were designed specifically to disrupt Iran's existing online networks, that's the effect they had. Reports say gigabytes of traffic slammed the country's Internet infrastructure, forcing authorities to limit services. Attacks are ongoing, and seem to be organized.
Iran had announced on September 23 that it intended to substitute a domestic Internet for the Worldwide Web, beginning with a block on Google, and services like Gmail. Authorities cite cybersecurity as the reason. Iran's nuclear program was the target of the Stuxnet superworm, an intrusion attributed to the United States and Israel. The US government has not denied responsibility.
Many saw additional cultural motivations for the announcement. The swift move to block Google was said to be related to YouTube's hosting of the anti-Islamic movie which has caused anger and rioting across much of the Muslim world. There are suspicions too that increased control of Internet communications would enhance the ability of Iranian authorities to monitor dissidents. (Officials later lifted the ban on Gmail, acknowledging that YouTube had been the intended target.)
As Ron Miller has argued, one likely unintended effect of the switch would be to cripple Iranian e-commerce. As he pointed out, the strategy would amount, ironically, to self-imposed economic sanctions.
Whatever the purpose of the current cyberattacks, they would seem to play directly into the hands of Iranian official sources who insist that Internet controls are necessary for national cybersecurity. Indeed, it's precisely the prospect of these kinds of attacks that has the White House picking up the pieces of cybersecurity legislation dropped by the Senate, and fashioning a possible Executive Order.
While it may be worthless to speculate about the source of the onslaught on Iran's superstructure, suspicion will inevitably rest with the nations apparently responsible for Stuxnet.
How strange it would be to find the United States launching cyberattacks while dragging its feet on improving its own cyberdefenses. If so, it's also providing Iranian hard-liners with good reasons for withdrawing from international Internet communications. Of course, if the resulting damage is to Iran's economy, or the credibility of its current government, that might just be the desired outcome.
But who knows? This is cybersecurity, and therefore all smoke and mirrors. One thing is sure: Deservedly or not, Iran has powerful enemies breathing heavily down its digital neck.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution