Iran hackers target global infrastructure: Report


Iranian cyber warfare capabilities have reached a new level of sophistication, according to a new report, placing major control infrastructure - including leading oil and gas companies - at risk.

"As Iran's cyber warfare capabilities continue to morph, the probability of an attack that could impact the physical world at a national or global level is rapidly increasing," U.S. group Cylance said in its report.

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The 87-page dossier released on Tuesday is focussed on "Operation Cleaver", an Iranian group of hackers which uses the string "cleaver" in some of its malicious software.

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"This team displays an evolved skillset and uses a complex infrastructure to perform attacks of espionage, theft, and the potential destruction of control systems and networks," Stuart McClure, CEO of Cylance, explained.

Over a two-year period, researchers at Cylance claim to have documented at least 50 attacks by Operation Cleaver on energy infrastructure, airports and airlines, as well as governments across 16 countries. Earlier attacks from Iran have focussed on American and Middle East targets, but now the geographical footprint is wide, the report said, ranging from Canada to South Korea, with a notably heavy concentration in the oil-rich Gulf.

"Such broad targeting demonstrates to the world that Iran is no longer content to retaliate against the U.S. and Israel alone. They have bigger intentions: to position themselves to impact critical infrastructure globally," the report added.

Hacking campaigns sourced out of Iran appear to have increased following a series of cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, starting with the Stuxnet virus in 2009.

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A hallmark assault was the "Shamoon" campaign in 2012, which hit computers at Qatar's RasGas as well Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil producer.

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Saudi Aramco confirmed in August of 2012 that 30,000 of its workstations had been infected, although it did not impact oil production as the systems operated separately.

Cylance analysts added that the attacks may be related to the drawn out negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

However, Hamid Babaei, the spokesman for Iran's mission to the United Nations, has denied the allegations.

"This is a baseless and unfounded allegation fabricated to tarnish the Iranian government image, particularly aimed at hampering current nuclear talks," he told Reuters.

Despite a November 24 deadline, talks between six world powers and Iran have not yet yielded a comprehensive resolution. A new target date has been set for June 30, 2015.

- By CNBC's Yousef Gamal El-Din