Iran’s leadership has embraced cyber operations and provided training to its ally Hezbollah, a think tank said.
A report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iran sees itself as being in an “intelligence and cyber war” with its rivals.
It said Tehran has expanded its cyber capabilities since the Stuxnet attack on its nuclear programme more than a decade ago, thought to be the work of the US and Israel.
Iran’s desire to quell domestic opposition has intensified its use of cyber surveillance tools.
But Tehran probably lacks the ability to carry out high-intensity, “warfare-grade” cyber attacks, the report said.
The warning comes after German intelligence said that Iran had carried out cyber attacks which hit targets in Europe and the US.
In one case uncovered in Berlin, Iran was blamed for a cyber-attack on German companies in which employees were duped into installing malware.
European intelligence officials fear that Iran is seeking the technical know-how required to develop nuclear weapons.
The Stuxnet breach occurred when Iran had few domestic experts on cyber security and limited access to foreign expertise.
Since then, Iran “has become a determined cyber actor against US, Gulf Arab and Israeli interests”, the IISS report said.
It said some of Iran’s operations in the West appeared to be speculative efforts at data theft.
Iranian operatives are also suspected of meddling in politics, for example by encouraging the push for Scottish independence in order to weaken the UK.
Tehran’s efforts in the West were undermined by the fact that they appeared to be easily detected and attributed to Iran, the IISS said.
But Iran was described as a significant regional cyber power which has carried out “disruptive and destructive” attacks on infrastructure.
Tehran is believed to have provided “cyber tools and training” to Hezbollah, its ally in Lebanon.
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