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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cyber-Warfare And Mercenaries on the Web

Iranian Cyber Army hacking and defacing Twitter may be part of a broader strategy of the Iranian government and military to control the flow of information from its own territories as well as information directed at it from external sources.This is the contention of a Techcrunch article which has also been published in Washington Post.

If you are an active Social Web user then you must already know about the role Twitter played during the post-election turmoil in Iran. Not only was it the main service for communication among the protesters and the primary source of news coming out from Iran but it was also the platform on which a major social media campaign was launched to mobilize public opinion against the Iranian regime. Although,it was supposed to be a campaign by Iranians anti- government protesters, the West's involvement was quite conspicuous. As a matter of fact US administration intervened and Twitter rescheduled its maintenance downtime in view of the volatile conditions in Iran. I had posted my observations on this development in one of my previous blog entry, please check out (Tweeting a revolution or is it a black operation ?). This campaign was seen by Iran as an attempt by the West to exploit political turmoil in the region to destabilize the state. Thus, this latest attack and defacement can be seen as a retaliation.

However, the Techcrunch article goes on to hint that the attack may have been launched as part of a much larger plan!  Apparently, Iran has on Friday said that it is creating more efficient centrifuges that can be used in its nuclear plan by 2011. This and other reports like Iraq  accusing Iranian forces infiltrating into its territory are being seen as part of a larger diplomatic offensive ahead of the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. The cyber attack on Twitter as well as some other anti-government sites could be politically motivated to send a message to the West that Iran is capable of engaging the adversary in cyber warfare too. This message would sound far more ominous when we look at the conflict from the prism of asymmetric warfare.

Only time can tell how accurate this speculation is, but i myself have little doubt that the internet is fast becoming an arena of political games; games that go beyond mere propaganda campaigns,crowdsourced diplomacy to system disruption through Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. In one of my earlier posts ( Is Cyber-Warfare On Social Web same as Terrorism  ) i have discussed how politically motivated attacks and nation-states conflicts spilling over to the internet are affecting the common users, this could be another instance of it. However, it is not really clear if this group called Iranian Cyber Army is indeed a government supported group or just another group of nationalistic individuals acting on their own accord but with the tacit approval of the Iranian government. The flaw in the argument is that an hitherto unknown group of hackers, taking down Twitter may hardly procure any bargaining power for the Iranian regime! No doubt Iran is actively pursuing its nuclear program as well as cyber-warfare capability, but why should the US and EU concede any  ground to it because it could take down a popular micro-blogging site ? From another perspective, it is quite possible that this news report may be part of the social media campaign against the Iranian regime that has been going  for quite sometime.

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