Iran’s fondness for paramilitary and semi-official organizations is nothing new, but a recent report by a private intelligence company has revealed thatIran has multiple paramilitary organizations dedicated to cyberwarfare.
These groups include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Iranian Cyber Army, and Basij, a paramilitary militia that helps maintain internal security. Their goal is the defeat of “Westoxification,” the Iranian term for the harming of Persian culture by Western influences present in the cyber realm.
At a Hezbollah cyber conference inTehranlast month, Iranian cyber warriors met to discuss the importance of their role in defending the Iranian regime from enemies both domestic and foreign.
Iranregularly uses groups like its Iranian Cyber Army to attack offending websites, such as Voice of America. Iranian efforts online, however, are not merely limited to hacking and cyber attacks.
The Iranian regime also seeks to spread it propaganda as far and wide as possible, paying bloggers and activists as much as $7 per hour to promote Iranian policies and positions. The Center for Investigating Organized Cyber Crimes, closely affiliated with the IRGC, has published pictures of dissidents and protestors online for their arrest in an effort to intimidate current and would-be dissidents. Groups like the Basij filter and remove “corrupting” foreign and anti-regime materials in Internet communications. Additionally, the IRGC owns large swaths of communication companies, ensuring that only regime-friendly Internet access is readily available.
Such organizations and actions indicate a concerted cyber effort to fend off foreign influences and domestic uprisings like the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring. Clearly, Iranrecognizes the potential democratizing effects that cyber can bring to a repressed population, and they do not like it. Indeed, Iranranks dead last in Freedom House’s 2011 Freedom on the Net index.
By using every weapon in its cyber and communications armory, Iranhas shown itself to be a substantial cyber foe and should not be ignored. We now know that American cyber capabilities are capable of striking at protected Iranian systems, but we must also be able to protect ourselves and reach the Iranian public, many of whom yearn for freedom.