Israel & Iran Locked In Cyber Conflict

Millions of people in Iran and Israel have found themselves in the crossfire as a result of the cyber conflict between their countries.

The shadow war between Israel and Iran is increasingly being fought in cyberspace and civilians are the latest targets in this long-running conflict. 

Where once only so-called hard targets, like weapons systems and critical infrastructure, would be regarded as fair game, now small businesses and even members of the public are finding themselves at risk.

Currently Israelis are assessing the wreckage after attacks by a suspected Iranian-linked hackers group Black Shadow on a medical institute which compromised  nearly thousands of patients medical files and Black Shadow also hacked a dating website that meant the leaking of tens of thousands of Israelis private data.

The exchange points to a new trend of targeting civilians and the two attacks appear to be the first that caused widespread harm to civilians, auguring an escalation in the cyber conflict as softer targets are drawn into the line of fire. “Black Shadow is a cover for an Iranian attack group which operates under a criminal cover,” Harel Menashri, an official with Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet, told the Kan television network. “Iran works through the cyber systems from a strategic point of view - to damage Israel’s financial and intelligence sectors.”

Iran-Israel cyber war has been going strong since at least April 2020. This comes on the heels of a recent cyber attack that disrupted people from purchasing  petrol at approximately 4,300 stations in Iran. The attack incapacitated a system used by Iranians to purchase gas at a subsidised rate, taking approximately 12 days before operations were fully restored. Iran as well as at least two US defense officials have pointed to Israel’s culpability in the attack.

In the past several months, those strikes have escalated. Fuel supply systems, railway controls, and an airline in Iran have all faced attacks. At the same time, hackers have posted the personal information of a million Israeli LGBTQ dating app users, and exposed certain details about the Israeli army. 

The high-profile hacks on Iranian infrastructure have been wide-ranging in their targets and attributed to both state-sponsored actors and independent hacking groups. But they have one thing in common: They’ve caused chaos and confusion for ordinary people and businesses in the country. Moreover, the offensive cyber warfare that Israel is encouraging attests to the fact that it is finding it difficult to understand the codes that guide the Iranian leadership. 

Israel  has  experienced cyber security failures in protecting its own facilities, while Iran has been retaliating, targeting Israeli targets. Iranian actors are alleged to have conducted attacks against Israeli water distribution plants that attempted to modify chlorine levels in the water supplied to Israeli homes.

While the two countries have engaged one another covertly in air, land, sea, and cyberspace, for the past year both have appeared to move away from traditional symbols of state power such as military sites, individuals of interest, or government facilities, to civilian infrastructure. A closer look at this new type of Israeli-Iranian exchange suggests that cyber warfare is maturing into a new phase, where new rules of engagement and deterrence are in the process of being established.

The intent of these attacks is quite clear: to inflict pain on the civilian communities in their respective countries in a show that neither government can protect them.

Whether one thinks of climate change, international terrorism, or cyber threats, all such challenging contemporary phenomena necessitate a framework for international co-operation. Even as cyber warfare becomes more established and moves into the public view, it is still an uncontrolled realm. There are no hard international rules resembling the accepted conventions of armed conflict. This leaves state actors to push boundaries, with dangerous margins for error.

Oodaloop:     Haaretz:      NYT:       Wired:       Foreign Policy:     CCDOOE / NATO   

Independent:       ArabNews:       BDNews:     Times Of Israel

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