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Iran: ‘U.S. Power Grid Prime Target for Cyber Attack’

Reports indicate a recent meeting of Iran's cyber warfare leaders concluded that our grids should be their primary target. They have also been discussing retaliation for Stuxnet.

by
'Reza Kahlili'

Bio

April 20, 2011 - 12:00 am

On April 16, the head of Iranian cyberwarfare within Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Gholam Reza Jalali, officially blamed the U.S. and Israel for Stuxnet — a mysterious computer worm that has harmed Iran’s nuclear program. The Guard’s officials have repeatedly warned of retaliation: both for the assassinations of the Iranian nuclear scientists inside Iran, which they called acts of espionage, and for Stuxnet.

Reports from Iran indicate that during a recent meeting among Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commanders and Iranian scientists, America’s vulnerabilities for a cyber attack were discussed. They concluded that the U.S. power grids represent the best opportunity for such attacks, as more U.S. utilities are moving their control systems to the Internet and using smart-grid technology.

The Iranian leaders have acknowledged Stuxnet hit a limited number of centrifuges at both its main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and its nuclear power plant in Bushehr. Although the Iranians quickly replaced the defective centrifuges at Natanz and have steadily enriched uranium to a holding of over 8000 pounds (enough for three nuclear bombs), they have not been able to recover as fast at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Rejoining the country’s power grid has been delayed several times.

It was reported last month that the Iranian cyber warfare program was moved under the supervision of the Passive Defense Organization of Iran. The European Union lists this as an entity linked to either Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or Iran’s development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Inspector General found that the nation’s power grid is still prone to a cyber attack. The vulnerable state of the power grid was blamed on several different factors, especially the fact that the “critical infrastructure protection” (CIP) cyber standards, which power companies were to have fully implemented a year ago, are not effective.

Other reports within the U.S. have concluded that cyber spies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system. It is also believed that the Chinese have attempted to map the U.S. infrastructure, including the electrical grid.

While China has little incentive to disrupt the U.S. economy, the Iranian leaders see it as an opportunity to further weaken U.S. supremacy. A successful cyber attack on the North American power grid could disrupt the economy and possibly create a national trauma.

Iran’s cyber warfare unit is now actively recruiting hackers from around the world for what they promote as the goals of the Islamic Republic.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the author of the award winning book, A Time to Betray. He serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI).
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