The risk of an Iranian cyberattack is real and could cause significant disruption to the United States, experts say.
Though Iran lacks the hacking prowess of more powerful adversaries, such as China and Russia, it is capable enough to be dangerous. It’s moved from being a third-rate nuisance in cyberspace to at least a second-tier threat in recent years.
"They have capability to cause serious damage, especially if they're not worried about attribution,” said Peter W. Singer, a strategist at the New America Foundation who studies the future of warfare. "It is not just a matter of their capability but also how we have a wide range of soft targets, especially on the civilian side."
An unclassified assessment released last year by the intelligence community said Iran has grown “increasingly sophisticated” in its online spying capabilities — gaining intelligence on companies, US officials and government organizations to prepare for an eventual cyberattack. That could potentially include attacks on critical infrastructure such as power grids, financial networks and other key targets.
"It is capable of causing localized, temporary disruptive effects,” said the report, "such as disrupting a large company’s corporate networks for days to weeks."
In the past, Iran has been accused of shutting down the websites of US banks and attacking the computer systems of American casinos, resulting in the loss of credit card information and Social Security numbers.
But now US officials are bracing for a much wider range of attacks. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security briefed officials from city and local governments, telecom companies and other potential victims on the potential for an Iranian cyberattack.