Saudi foreign minister calls Iran most dangerous nation for cyberattacks

  • The most dangerous nation for cyber threats is Iran, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC on Sunday.
  • Though the minister did not offer specific examples for his claim, security experts have pointed to what they see as Iran's increasingly sophisticated cyber-espionage capabilities.
  • The accusation was not surprising, given the mounting animosity between the Sunni monarchy and the Shia Islamic republic.

The most dangerous nation for cyber threats is Iran, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC on Sunday, saying that the country had been attacked "repeatedly" by its adversary.

Asked who he believed was the greatest single threat in terms of cyber attacks, Al-Jubeir was unequivocal.

"The most dangerous nation behind cyber attacks? Iran," Al-Jubeir said.

"Iran is the only country that has attacked us repeatedly and tried to attack us repeatedly. In fact they tried to do it on a virtually weekly basis."

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends a press conference with US Secretary of State in Riyadh on October 22, 2017.
Alex Brandon | AFP | Getty Images
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends a press conference with US Secretary of State in Riyadh on October 22, 2017.

Al-Jubeir's statement was not surprising, given the mounting animosity between the Sunni monarchy and the Shia Islamic republic. The Iranian government did not respond to a request for response to Al-Jubeir's comments, but it has denied accusations of aggression in the past.

Speaking at the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, the foreign minister repeatedly criticized Iran for what he called "mischievous behavior" in the region, with particular reference to its support for Shia militant group Hezbollah, which holds influence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Sunni monarchy's interests have for decades been diametrically opposed to Iran's, but the past year has seen tensions escalate particularly against a backdrop of proxy conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Al-Jubeir said his country was taking steps to combat the perceived cyber threat from Iran.

"We are taking all the steps necessary to provide defenses for our data banks and for our internet and so forth. And we are also taking steps necessary to train our own people in order to be able to engage in offensive operations to make it hopefully impossible for people to penetrate those systems," he said.

Though the minister did not offer specific examples for his claim, cyber experts have pointed to what they see as Iran's increasingly sophisticated cyber-espionage capabilities.

Last September, the U.S. Treasury Department added two Iran-based hacking networks and eight individuals to a U.S. sanctions list, accusing them of taking part in cyber-enabled attacks on the U.S. financial system in 2012 and 2013, Reuters reported. Iran denied any role in the cyber attacks although it has also been linked to cyber attacks closer to home too.

Hackers believed to be linked to the Iranian government attacked Saudi state oil giant Aramco in 2012, successfully wiping 30,000 computers and paralyzing operations.

In addition, security experts have traced a number of subsequent attacks back to Iran, including hacks on Saudi and Western aerospace and petrochemical companies. Cyber security firm FireEye has said it detected coding containing Farsi references in the malware that hackers left behind.

Ever since the Stuxnet virus that destroyed the computer-controlled equipment at Iran's Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility in 2011, Iran's cyber capabilities are said to have developed at an incredibly fast pace.

FireEye in September 2017 named a hacker group it believed was behind recent attacks on Saudi, U.S. and South Korean aviation and oil firms as "APT33" and said it was preparing for attacks that could cripple entire computer networks. "Iranian fingerprints are all over this campaign, and government fingerprints in particular," FireEye's director of cyber espionage analysis was quoted as telling Reuters.

Iran neither confirmed nor denied accusations that it was behind the attacks.

Cyber security has been a major focus of the Munich Security Conference, which has brought together more than 450 senior decision makers and heads of state to discuss current and future threats to international stability.