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Cyberweapons Now a 'Core Tool' of Iranian Statecraft

FILE - An Iranian checks the newly launched website of Iran's Intelligence Ministry, in Tehran, Iran, Oct. 10, 2012. The ministry is one of Iran's two main security organizations.

A new report by the Carnegie Endowment says Iran’s cyberoperations have become increasingly sophisticated and damaging to its adversaries and are now a prime policy tool for its security agencies.

The report, released on Thursday, said Tehran has used offensive cyberoperations to influence regional affairs, thwart opponents and rivals like Saudi Arabia and the United States, and conduct espionage.

“Iran has demonstrated how militarily weaker countries can use [cybertools] to contend with more advanced adversaries,” the report said.

Homegrown capability

Much of Iran’s cybercapability is homegrown, the report said, and is frequently guided by the country’s main security organizations: the Ministry of Intelligence and the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

“Tehran has become increasingly adept at conducting cyberespionage and disruptive attacks against opponents at home and abroad, ranging from Iranian civil society organizations to governmental and commercial institutions in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States,” the report said.

Over the past decade, offensive cyberoperations have become a core tool of Iranian statecraft, for the purposes of "espionage, signaling, and coercion,” it said.

Iranian intelligence and security agencies have also used hackers and malicious cybertools to go after civil society activists and antigovernment organizations, the report said.

For example, a group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army between 2009 and 2013 targeted websites associated with political opposition groups, as well as Israeli businesses and independent Persian-language media, defacing the sites and posting pro-government messages.

Social media control

The recent outbreak of antigovernment protests nationwide has also highlighted Iranian authorities’ efforts to control or limit information and independent media in cyberspace and social-media platforms.

The government blocked popular social-media application Instagram and a widely used messaging app in Iran called Telegram, both of which are popular among Iranians, used to help set up gathering points for demonstrators.

Known formally as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank specializes in foreign policy issues. Founded by the late American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the center now receives funding from private and governmental sources.