The joint chiefs of staff of Iran’s armed forces have established a new ‘soft
war’ headquarters to counter threats from Israel and the US, particularly in
cyberspace, the Iranian media reported on Saturday.
The Deputy Chief of
Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces for Cultural Affairs and Defense, Brig.-Gen.
Massoud Jazayeri said that Iran’s enemies were ‘very serious’ in their ‘soft
war’ efforts against the Islamic Republic, according to Sepah News, the official
public relations site of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC). “Therefore, we too must develop an organized means to address the
fight with the enemy in this arena,” Jazayeri said.
The military leader
claimed that “hundreds of think tanks” in the US are monitoring
“The enemy is trying to dominate Iran in cyberspace. They
are doing their utmost to create roadblocks to prevent Iran’s progress and
success in cyber warfare,” Jazayeri warned.
The brigadier-general made
his comments to a gathering of military personnel at a conference organized by
the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Basij Cyber Battalions in
Tehran, the aim of which was to equip and mobilize Iran’s national media to
combat what Tehran sees as the “soft war” threat, according to a report by IRIB
Attending the conference were IRIB cyber space experts and
members of Iran’s Cyber Council Committee and the Basij voluntary militia, IRIB
reported. The Cyber Council Committee comprises seven “battalions” – politics,
culture, social concerns, media, economics, women’s issues and Islamic
jurisprudence – each of which deals with issues “targeted by the West in its
soft-war against Iran,” IRIB said.
The development comes amid evidence
that a shadowy cyber war between Iran, the US and Israel has
Over the past year, Israel and Israeli-linked targets have
been hit by a wave of cyber attacks originating in Iran.
Last week, a
group of pro- Iranian hackers nicknamed “Parastoo” – the Persian word for the
bird “swallow” – claimed to have seized personal data from 200 scientists and
officials linked to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). In a
message that has been widely disseminated among pro-hacking websites in Iran,
the group threatened to make its information public if “a Western-favored
element entertains another sip of motorbike and magnet bomb cocktail,” alluding
to allegations that Israel was responsible for assassinating Iranian nuclear
In July, researchers at computer security companies Kaspersky
Lab and Seculert reported the discovery of a sophisticated malware attack,
nicknamed Mahdi after the Shi’ite messiah, that mostly targeted critical
infrastructure companies, financial services and government embassies in Israel
as well as Saudi Arabia, the US and the United Arab Emirates. The malware was
spread via an email containing a fake word document attachment that when opened
executed a malware dropper. The malware is designed to spy on computers,
including by sending screen shots and recordings back to the attackers. An
analysis by Seculert revealed that Mahdi, likely originated in
While is it impossible to know for certain whether the Parastoo
hack or the far more serious Mahdi malware and the recent wave of network
attacks against US financial institutions and Saudi oil companies were carried
out by groups linked to the Iranian government, it is clear that Iran has
stepped up its cyber warfare activities as an integral element of both its soft
war defense and its asymmetric warfare strategy.
The IRGC stepped up its
“soft war” rhetoric in the wake of the widespread riots and unrest that followed
the country’s disputed 2009 presidential elections.
According to that
rhetoric, “soft war” can include any attempts to create unrest in Iran,
including psychological operations.
However, following the launch of the
Stuxnet virus that Iranian officials said had infected computer systems and
centrifuges used to enrich uranium, Iran has expanded its definition of “soft
war” to include cyber warfare attacks.
Offensively, Iran uses cyber
warfare in a similar manner to its other asymmetric strategies, which appear to
include training its proxies to carry out attacks. Last month, Israel took its
police department offline after discovering computers had been infected by a
remote-access tool (RAT) allowing attackers to control machines in real-time.
According to the US-based computer security firm Norman, those and other recent
attacks originated in Gaza, home to Iranian- backed Hamas and Palestinian
Norman described the attacks from Gaza as “an espionage
operation [that] has been underway for at least a year.” Iran’s cyber warfare
strategy is also designed to counter what it sees are attacks from the US and
In a recent report published on its new public website, Iran’s
Intelligence Ministry accused the US and Israel of perpetrating a cyber war
against Iran, including by using “advanced malware” against its nuclear
The report – intended for consumption by the Iranian public
and widely disseminated by the Iranian media – relies on information and
opinions given in various Western news reports and commentary on the issue of
The launch of the new “soft war” barracks and the
Intelligence Ministry report both come after Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman
Ramin Mehmanparast in May accused “illegitimate regimes” of “producing viruses
and trying to use cyberspace,” in response to questions about whether the Flame
computer virus had infected any of Iran’s computer systems.
Iran said it had experienced a cyber attack against computer systems in its
Petroleum Ministry and other oil-related state companies, which it said was part
of a wider “soft war” effort by the US and Israel.
cyber strategy includes online propaganda, including via its state media, for
both domestic and international consumption.
Tehran is engaged in a
large-scale propaganda war with the West, not only on behalf of its own regime
but also for its allies. In its most recent move, Iran’s Fars News, which is
closely affiliated with the IRGC, opened a branch in Damascus to “provide a
realistic view” of events in Syria and counter what Iran has termed Western
propaganda against its closest regional ally, Syrian president Bashar
The Cyber Council Committee conference, run by IRIB, also comes
after the US Senate voted unanimously in favor of enhanced sanctions against
Iran, which include blacklisting IRIB and preventing others from doing business
with the Iranian state media company and its chief, Ezzatollah
The European Union has already placed individual sanctions
against Zarghami, whom it says has committed human rights abuses including by
broadcasting forced confessions of detainees and show trials in August 2009 and
Iran, however, says the new sanctions are a “flagrant
attempt to try to silence the Iranian media.”
Referring to the sanctions
against IRIB, Chief of Staff Jazayeri accused Israel and the US of using “soft
war” techniques to try to create a political crisis in Iran, including via
Jazayeri said Iran’s enemies try to lure Iranians with
promises of a “Western lifestyle.”
The head of the Cyber Council
Committee, Ali Asghar Jafaari – who serves as a media adviser to Zarghami – said
that cyberspace was “an important platform” through which the enemy tries to
flaunt anti-Iranian [propaganda] and we will move to constrict them in this
area, as we have done in other arenas.”