Cyber Attacks From Middle East Increasing


LONDON — Cyber attacks originating from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Iran are expected to increase over the next several years, said one defense expert Sept. 16.

"The reason that the cyber attacks are happening is because of events that are happening on the ground in the region,” said Terry Pattar, a senior consultant at IHS’ aerospace, defence and security division. “The three main drivers … [are] the Syrian civil war, the ‘cold war,’ as it’s termed with Iran, and the long standing enmity between Israel and … countries and parties in the region.”

These threats have increased significantly over the past year, Pattar said during a speech at the Defence and Security Equipment International conference. A large portion of these attacks have come from the Islamic State — the most active militants online — which has at least two hacking groups.

The Islamic State hacking division reportedly was behind an August cyber attack where 1,500 mostly U.S. military and government personnel had their names and contact information released. 

“The group was encouraging Islamic State supporters around the world to attack those listed on the spreadsheet, to identify them and locate them and then carry out physical attacks,” he said.

It said it broke into government databases to obtain the information, but Pattar believes it scraped the contact details from open-source data online. 

In August, the leader of the group, Junaid Hussain, also known as Abu Hussain Al Britani, was killed in a U.S. airstrike. “At this stage it’s not entirely clear what impact that will have on the group’s capability and whether they have someone to fill his shoes or not,” he said.

The Islamic State stood up the hacking group after U.S. and coalition partner airstrikes began last fall, he said.

Another Islamic State hacking group — the Cyber Caliphate — focuses more on propaganda for the terrorist organization. 

"The Cyber Caliphate is another group or brand the Islamic State has used online to try and represent its cyber attacks and cyber threats,” he said. They have targeted official U.S. military and government social media accounts. 

The same personnel may be running both the Islamic State Hacking Division and the Cyber Caliphate, but there are differences between the two groups, Pattar said.

“The Islamic State Hacking Group is trying to do something a bit more sophisticated in terms of targeting personnel, etc., putting out those details of military and government personnel,” he said. “The

Cyber Caliphate seems to be more interested in growing the social media presence of the Islamic State online.”

Iran also poses a serious threat to computer networks, Pattar noted. 

“In terms of cyber threats emerging form the Middle East, Iran and Iranian-backed groups seem to have a large capability,” he said. “They’ve been trying to do the most interesting and sophisticated operations in terms of gathering information that’s sensitive to defense, security and other types of industry sectors.”

Iran has been blamed for cyber attacks against U.S. banks in the past. Additionally, the country was suspected of carrying out a devastating attack that targeted a Saudi Arabian oil company. 

“I think long term that could be where the greatest threat sort of arises from, but it’s very much dependent upon real world dynamics,” Pattar said. Recent progress between Tehran and the West with the U.S. nuclear Iran deal, could reign in some of the country’s cyber operations. “Things could change very quickly.”

Topics: Cybersecurity, International

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