Iran’s Citizen Cyber Warriors

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A booklet of screenshots substantiates the work of Neema and his hacker-activist friends. Symbols of their victories on home-pages with images of the old Iranian flag’s lion and sword or messages such as “Dear user: this site is inaccessible,” make the attacks that much sweeter.

According to Roozbeh Farahanipour, founder of the MPG political party, who has resided in Los Angeles ever since his release from Towhid Prison for his involvement in the 1999 Tehran University uprising and who is in constant contact with party members, his own site has been attacked multiple times. Many of his activist friends have had their Facebook accounts hacked and on occasion, were sent cryptic messages warning them about posting anti-government messages.

The cryptic messages that they and many others, both in Iran and abroad, received via the Internet were probably sent from Iran’s hardline Cyber Army, created in 2008 to actively find and punish those expressing dissenting views online.

Iran’s military is made up of the Army, Air Force, Navy and a Revolutionary Guard force.  The army is sectioned into armored divisions, infantry division, airborne brigade, Special Forces and the newly added cyber division.

It is estimated that $76 million (U.S. dollars) of the total $11.5 billion allocated to the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps is spent on cyber warfare.  Iran’s brightest and most tech-savvy graduates are recruited to join the Cyber Army, a front on which the regime never imagined it would have to fight with its best soldiers in combat.

In a 2008 assessment by Defense Tech, the Iranian government’s offensive cyber capabilities scored a 4.0 out of a scale of 5.0.  The evaluation concluded that Iran has significantly advanced cyber warfare weapons and that its cyber agenda is ambitious and disturbing.

Recently, Iran’s Ansar Hezbollah or Friends of Hezbollah Newspaper ran a front-page piece July 14, 2010 flaunting the Iranian government’s ability to combat nonconforming points of view on the web. They call it a battle “against old enemies using new strategies.”

Now, larger forces, rumored to be driven by the Americans or Israelis, have developed a new computer worm called Stuxnet, which has been reportedly been used to attack Iran’s nuclear programming. Stuxnet searches for industrial control programs and changes the code, relinquishing control of the site to the attacker. After speculation, researches believe the worm was exclusively designed to destroy Iran’s nukes; the most likely target, the nuclear reactor site at Bushehr.

As expected, Reza Taghipour, Iran’s telecommunications minister said that it had not caused “serious damage to government systems.”

Press Tv, Iran’s state media programming reported only a few days ago that the country is no longer facing the threat of Stuxnet.

Whether Stuxnet or any other cyber worm, we are just beginning to see the efficient yet perverse influences of cyber warfare. Whether this is the new face of political confrontation in the 21st century, or the only way to retaliate against a non-complying dictator, the world’s showdown against the Iranian regime has changed the face of political engagement forever.

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  • USMCSniper

    Sending emails and hacking websites will not stop real people who use real bullets and have the torture rooms. In a civil war bring a gun and a keyboard not just a keyboard.

  • tanstaafl

    Never bring a knife to a gunfight.

  • Piera Prister

    I personally admiire the Iranian people who took the streets last year to oppose the Mullah regime electoral fraud. The entire world witnessed their bravery and their courage while the National Guards' repression was brutal and bloody. At night they shouted all togheter in chorus from the roofs, "death to the tyrant". Their revolution has just begun and they will never surrender. They are young, smart and well educated and I think they are even able to attack the Iranian nuclear website. Hurrah! Evviva!