Iranian leaders are targeting the internet in a "soft war" against the West
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Iranian leaders began speaking seriously about soft war in 2008 when they concluded that President George W. Bush was unlikely to attack Iran militar- ily, given the difficulties he faced in Iraq and pressures against war back home.18 Khamenei described soft war in November 2009 as “a mixture of cultural means and advanced communication equipment to spread lies and rumors and cause doubt and divisions among the people.”19 The Iranian Armed Forces General Staff announced the establishment of a national headquar- ters from which to wage soft war in December 2012.20 That announcement was followed in October 2013 with news that Iran was setting up a soft-war headquar- ters in each province.21
The Iranian military identified the Internet as one of the main enemies in this soft war, declaring, “[It is] not an instrument of threat or espionage. It’s a spy itself.” The head of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces in 2012 called Google an “instrument of espionage.”22 The IRGC called for national mobilization against the Internet threat in 2014, saying, “Amid the soft war, all the society’s strata, including the youths, university students and professors, should strive to confront the enemies’ threats and thwart their plots.” Its spokesman reported that it had developed plans “both to fight and prevent the soft war, and that all soft-power factors have been employed for an all-out confrontation with soft war.”23 This is the framework within which current Ira- nian cyber policy is developed and executed.
Iran has been developing cyber warfare capabilities for years and accelerated these efforts following the Stuxnet attack that set back their nuclear weapons program. Several large-scale hacking incidents against Western targets show that Iran is also becoming more adept and confident in conducting offensive cyber attacks to further its revolutionary aims.