Recent hacking news has been predominantly focused on security breaches at media companies, possibly coming from inside China, or influential Twitter accounts being hijacked - presenting varying levels of disruption, ranging from the trivial to the more serious- by the Syrian Electronic Army. But recent accounts from current and former U.S. officials describe even more potentially dangerous incoming cyberattacks, coming from Iran.
The networks of energy companies have been attacked in the most recent security breaches, including several yet-unidentified oil, gas, and electricity companies. The infrastructure of these companies were exposed to a level "far enough to worry people," an anonymous official told the Wall Street Journal.
Besides their level of success, it's the apparent goals of these hackers, which are the reasons for people to worry. Instead of theft or espionage, like what Chinese hackers are often suspected of, the Iran-backed hackers appear to have been trying to take over control-system software that manages oil and gas pipelines. In other words, they were trying to cause disruption and chaos in the physical world, instead of just online.
U.S. officials are even more worried because the source of the attacks were narrowed down to Iran, where the state-controlled Internet is so regulated by the Iranian government that it's difficult to see how the hackers could have operated without, at the very least, government knowledge of the cyberassault. It's enough to prompt a Homeland Security warning earlier this month, according to the New York Times, although Iran wasn't cited as the origin of the threat at the time.
Iranian officials have denied involvement in the cyberattack. Iran's United Nations spokesperson, Alireza Miryousefi, told the Wall Street Journal:
"Although Iran has been repeatedly the target of state-sponsored cyberattacks, attempting to target Iran's civilian nuclear facilities, power grids, oil terminals and other industrial sectors, Iran has not ever retaliated against those illegal cyberattacks," he said. "In the lack of international legal instruments to address cyberwarfare, Iran has been at the forefront of calling for creating such instruments. We categorically reject these baseless allegations used only to divert attentions."
The Obama administration has been concerned about the growing cyber threat of Iran, prompting a high-level meeting last month at the White House on how to handle the cybersecurity threat the nation imposes. According to the Wall Street Journal's government source, no decisions were made then to take action, but officials will be meeting again soon to reassess the situation.