Recent Iranian attacks against their neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey may have served a dual purpose. In addition to intelligence gathering, Iranian cyberwarfare leaders may view those attacks as training for attacks against the larger targets presented by the United States and its allies.
Of course, Iran isn't the only country with proven cyberwarfare capabilities. We saw the formidable cyberwarfare capabilities of the United States and Israel on full display in the Natanz attack. More recently, Russian hackers stand accused of attacking the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, stealing emails and disrupting the American election.
Surely, the American military cyberwarfare community has also upped its game over the past decade. Iranian cyberattacks against critical American targets would likely be met with crippling, escalating counterattacks.
Countries generally fight cyberwars under a cloak of secrecy, stealthily masking their identities and covering their tracks. While the battlegrounds of cyberwarfare are often the darkened hallways of data centers and networking hubs, these attacks do have the ability to spill over into the physical world, as we saw at Natanz, Iran and Rye, New York.
It's not difficult to imagine cyberattacks with dire real-world consequences if hackers infiltrate the power grid, compromise an oil refinery, or take over the air traffic control system.
In 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta painted a grim picture of a future attack "that would cause physical destruction and loss of life, paralyze and shock the nation, and create a profound new sense of vulnerability."