Iranian cyber attacks threaten the U.S. Could Israel be next?

Reports show Iranian fake news could succeed in causing public panic.

Iranian flag and cyber code [Illustrative] (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Iranian flag and cyber code [Illustrative]
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
Iran’s cyberattacks have been more successful against the US than against Israel so far, but the threat against Israel could increase in the future, according to a new INSS report.
Gathering recent reports from multiple computer security firms and other think tanks, as well as analysis by INSS researcher Itay Haiminis, the report delves into the latest stage of Iranian cyberattacks on the US and Israel and warns of future escalation.
According to the report, Iran’s cyber influence campaign against the US “is not merely a reaction to US moves (real and imagined), but also another step towards Iran’s longstanding objective of destabilizing the United States by weakening its internal robustness.”
As the nuclear standoff and other US-Iran confrontations appear likely to be drawn out for an extended period, Tehran is fighting to wear down US pressure, especially as the US position remains out of step with the EU and UN.
“Israel, likewise a target of Iranian cyber influence efforts, would do well to monitor Iran’s development of cyberattack capabilities, along with Iran’s overt threats in conventional and non-conventional weapons,” the report said.
More specifically, the report notes that Fire-Eye Ltd., a cyber security company, has issued warnings about many fake news accounts on Facebook and Twitter that it assessed were operated by the Islamic Republic as part of its cyber influence campaign.
Tehran’s cyber influence efforts have been exposed by Twitter, which posted one million tweets, which were generated by fake accounts, and by Facebook, which announced it had deleted dozens of fake profiles.
Fire-Eye’s report, as well as a  report by Fortinet, a California-based cybersecurity company, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies have described Iran as an increasingly aggressive player in cyberspace, a report by the INSS said.
In the US, Iran’s cyber influence efforts are targeted at exacerbating internal US political debates between liberals and conservatives, African-Americans and Caucasians, among other groups. The report describes the Islamic Republic as using its cyberspace efforts to pour fuel on contentious domestic issues including racial tensions, controversial policies and police brutality.
Iranian cyber manipulation also attempts to turn US citizens against Israel and Saudi Arabia, while providing sympathetic coverage of Iranian positions on ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
The INSS report said that, eventually, “this Iranian activity may prove to make a decisive contribution to the erosion of trust in the media among US citizens or lead to a change in political or social positions.”
Moreover, unlike Russia, whose cyber activities in the US are constantly being publicly scrutinized, the report noted that “Iran has not suffered any consequences, and may even have managed to inflate the public image of its intelligence and technology capabilities.”
The report added that the Iranian cyber influence threat against Israel is still limited, and cited the Islamic Republic’s past activities as merely amounting to “website destruction and false contents planted in news sites,” which “resulted in little significant public impact.”
Furthermore, “Iran’s news website directed at the Israeli public, recently exposed by Clear Sky Ltd. failed to influence Israeli public discourse,” Haiminis wrote.
The report also said that, the an examination of Iran’s cyber influence efforts against Israel may suggest that Israel is not the main target.
However, in the future, Iran may succeed in planting fake news items about impending Israeli attacks, to cause public panic or disrupt Israel’s decision-making process.
Similarly, Iran may plant items “that could convince an enemy state or terrorist organization of an intended Israeli attack, which in turn sparks a preemptive attack against Israel.”
Haiminis wrote that Iran succeeded in 2016 in “eliciting a Pakistani verbal response to a false report that Israel had threatened Pakistan with a nuclear attack should Pakistan send forces to Syria.”
He suggested that, as Israel confronts Iran’s influence in cyberspace, Israel it must double its defensive efforts and “should leverage the exposure and disruption of Iran’s influence tactics.”
The INSS report said that such a move could “garner political benefits by presenting” Iran’s cyber behavior “as yet another manifestation of Iran’s negative regional conduct and violations of international norms.”