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13 Feb, 2015 10:31

Cyber-blowback: US unwittingly ‘taught’ advanced cyber-warfare to Iran, N. Korea

Cyber-blowback: US unwittingly ‘taught’ advanced cyber-warfare to Iran, N. Korea

The US has unwittingly been helping rival nations how to perfect the art of cyber-warfare. That’s the conclusion in documents revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, showing that Iran may have learned of sophisticated cyber-attacks from the US itself.

A document of the US National Security Agency (NSA), leaked by Edward Snowden, has recently been published by The Intercept. It reveals that the US cyber-attacks on Iran could have pushed the Middle Eastern country to developing its own, advanced cyber warfare, striking back against the US and its allies.

READ MORE: Wars and foes: White House lists key threats in NSS

The document, prepared for a meeting between the NSA and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in 2013, concluded that Iran’s numerous cyber-attacks “are in retaliation to Western activities against Iran's nuclear sector and that senior officials in the Iranian government are aware of these attacks.”

The document also revealed that, in relation to Tehran’s reaction to the US attack of a virus-destroyer, Wiper, “Iran, having been a victim of a similar cyber-attack against its own oil industry in April 2012, has demonstrated a clear ability to learn from the capabilities and actions of others.”

New Top Secret NSA Document: How Iran's Cyber-Attacks Become More Potent by Copying the West's Attacks on them https://t.co/6sDOeXmyhB

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 10, 2015

The US was not the only country subject to Iran’s reprisal cyber-activities, as the developed viruses also endangered America’s allies. In 2012, four months after the Iranian Oil Ministry and the National Iranian Oil Company were attacked by malware, developed by the US in cooperation with Israel, the Saudi Oil Company Aramco was hit by a virus of probable Iranian origin, Shamoon, which led to the destruction of data on tens of thousands of computers, in many ways copying the way Wiper operated.

READ MORE: Directors of FBI and Office of National Intelligence blame Sony hack on North Korea

But Iran was not the only country learning the lessons provided by the US attacks. Wiper is also believed to have inspired the recent major attack on Sony Pictures, as well as hacks on South Korean financial and media institutions in 2013. US authorities have put the blame for both attacks on North Korea – many security experts doubt it, though.

What if every time we used a new weapon against our adversaries, they gained ability to use that weapon? Cyber! http://t.co/ChWsVOglwU

— Alex Abdo (@AlexanderAbdo) February 12, 2015

Raymond McGovern, a retired CIA officer and political activist, told RT on Friday that the US cyber-warfare “is enabling other countries to figure out how to do this to the degree they know about these viruses, they can do it in a more sophisticated manner.”

READ MORE: White House creates new cyber agency in effort to combat computer attacks

On Friday, the White House Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University will take place. President Barack Obama is set to address it, as well as to sign an executive order, aimed at increasing threat sharing between the government and private sector. It follows the announcement Tuesday of the creation of a new federal agency – the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), destined to cope with the increasing number of attacks against the nation’s computer systems.

In 2012, The New York Times reported that Obama’s administration had decided to follow the previous president’s strategy of cyber-attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities, dubbed Olympic Games – and a destructive virus called Stuxnet infected equipment at Iran’s nuclear plant, temporarily disrupting the operation of hundreds of centrifuges in 2010. According to the newspaper, the president “repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgement that it was using cyber-weapons … could enable other countries, terrorists, or hackers to justify their own attacks.”