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    Does the Iranian Cyber Army Really Pose an Imminent Threat to US?

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    The Pentagon is interested in speculating about the "threat" posed by Iranian, North Korean, Chinese and Russian hackers, as it helps the American military justify its defense spending, Russian cybersecurity analysts have told Sputnik, commenting on Ret. Adm. James Stavridis' call to boost US cyber forces.

    "The United States will bolster its cyber forces regardless of how strong the Iranian hackers are, it's a matter of implementing the budget," Evgeny Lifshits, a member of the Russian State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications, told Sputnik Persian.

    The US mainstream media has long been circulating stories about cyberattacks allegedly committed by Iranian, North Korean, Chinese and Russian hackers. In his recent op-ed for Bloomberg, James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and a former NATO supreme allied commander, Europe (SACEUR), called upon the government to focus on the development of cyber forces.

    "China and Russia have huge offensive cyber-capabilities," the retired admiral claimed. "Other nations, notably Iran and North Korea, also have significant offensive cyber-capability."

    According to Stavridis, the US is "being attacked from cyberspace right now, and that demands an immediate response."

    However, Lifshits believes that the admiral's alarmist stance is just part of a broader agenda.

    "One should not forget that there is this US' foreign policy game with its opponents, there is a defense budget, and there is an external enemy, on which the blame is usually pinned for [Washington's] incompetence in the field of cybersecurity. Today, Iran, North Korea and Russia are 'designated' as enemies of the United States," the cybersecurity analyst said.

    In March 2018, the United States Department of Justice announced criminal charges against nine Iranian individuals, allegedly involved in gaining unauthorized access to data of US and foreign universities, American tech companies and government entities.

    During a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich claimed that the hackers had been acting at the behest of the government of Iran. The FBI deputy director added that they were affiliated with the Mabna Institute, an Iranian company supposedly involved in malicious cyber activities. 

    According to Lifshits, Bowdich's assumptions were exaggerated: If the Iranians had stolen something really sensitive the US would have resorted to something more tangible than just "threats," he suggested.

    "The most farcical and most resonant crime attributed to Iranian hackers by the US is the hacking of the HBO channel in August 2017 and the stealing of 1.5 terabytes of data, including scenarios of non-released episodes of 'Game of Thrones'!" the analyst underscored.

    Lifshits believes that it was rather surprising that the US had blown a gasket over the theft of Games of Thrones' scripts as if it were an air raid. "So all these [US] movements with Iran are just a game, a symbolism that life itself handed [them]," he opined.

    However, all these cases play into the hands of the Pentagon as they help the US military justify its swollen budget, the analyst remarked. Besides, Washington may have apparently been preparing the ground for a preventive intrusion of Iran, Lifshits presumed. Still, he emphasized that "the Islamic Republic of Iran is not Syria or Iraq," adding that Washington was unlikely to invade it directly.

    For his part, Evgeny Yushchuk, a professor at Ural State University and expert on competitive intelligence and cybersecurity, suggested that Washington's accusations against Iran are just a PR stunt and a tool of demonization.

    "In the public field, the Iranians mostly sounded like victims of a cyber war," Yushchuk said, referring to the malicious 2010 cyberattack that disabled about 20 percent of Iran's centrifuges.

    However, according to the Russian academic, "Iran has enough money to engage cyberexperts in its fold."

    "Cyber warfare does not require huge material resources — not in terms of money, but in terms of equipment. It is not as sophisticated as the creation of an atomic bomb," he said. "Most Americans are engaged in public relations. To demonize an adversary in the field of technological information confrontation sounds right and fashionable today. I think that 90 percent of it is just a PR stunt, but I do not exclude outsourcing opportunities. They can do that. I would say that everyone who has money has an opportunity to do this, and they have money."

    In any event, it is nearly impossible to prove that it was Iranian hackers behind cyberattacks on the US, Lifshits noted, adding that the Iranians may have fallen prey to a smear campaign just like the Russians who had been accused of meddling in the 2016 US elections.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    hacker, cyber warfare, cyber security, cyber attack, NATO, HBO, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Justice, James Stavridis, Donald Trump, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), Iran, China, United States, Russia
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