Sun, Feb 27, 2011 | The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
“Cyber war” Between Iran’s Regime and Opposition-Supporting Western Media
As protest demonstrations resume, the cyber war between Iran’s regime and its opponents has escalated as well in the recent two weeks.
The Gerdab website reported this week that the Voice of America website as well as 94 other websites affiliated with the U.S. State Department were attacked by the “Iranian Cyber Army” in protest of the “lies” spread against the regime by opposition-supporting Western media. The hackers who broke into the Voice of America website posted a message to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
“Mrs. Clinton, do you want to hear the voice of oppressed nations will from heart of USA? Islamic world doesn’t believe USA trickery. We call on you to stop interfering in Islamic countries” (Gerdab, February 22).
The attack of the Iranian Cyber Army was made days after a widespread hacker attack on several websites affiliated with the Iranian regime and conservative media. The hackers targeted the official websites of the Supreme Leader, the president’s office, the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Atomic Energy Organization, the Majles, the Basij, and Iran Broadcasting. Also attacked were the official websites of IRNA (the official news agency), as well as Fars, Aftab, and Fararu news agencies. Shortly prior to the attack on the websites, activists from the international hacker group Anonymous posted a message of support for the Iranian people’s struggle against the regime.
After the website of the Fars conservative news agency was taken down, its technical department contacted the Iranian authorities in request to file a complaint to the international court against the U.S. for its alleged involvement in the cyber attack on the Iranian websites. However, Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaqt, director of the Fararu news website, accused the government of Britain and the BBC of attacking the Iranian websites to divert Iran’s public opinion and strengthen the opposition for the demonstration that took place on February 14. In an interview to the Tabnak website, Khoshvaqt claimed that, last week, hackers broke into the Fararu website and posted a message saying that Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, who was visiting Tehran at the time, intended to take part in the opposition’s demonstration. The website managers were forced to take the website offline after the posting. According to Khoshvaqt, the Aftab News website was the victim of a similar attack and had to be taken offline as well. Khoshvaqt asked the relevant government agencies to help the IT companies that support the websites defend themselves from the Western cyber attack.
Meanwhile, the opposition website Rooz Online reported that during the last nine months, Iran Broadcasting has been operating a cyber department whose responsibilities include spreading disinformation on Western media and social networks. According to the report, the department consists of 20 units with a total budget of about 100 million dollars. It runs three internet networks, known as Ma (“We”), Shoma (“You all”), and Paydari (“Resistance”). Ma and Shoma are in charge of uploading videos on YouTube that reflect the positions of the regime. Paydari operates on the Facebook social network. It creates fake user profiles to develop discussions with Facebook users where the opinions of government supporters can be voiced. This department cooperates with hackers who attack websites affiliated with the reformist opposition. According to Rooz Online, it is the Paydari department that took down www.balatrin.com, a website that serves as a Persian-language social network and is affiliated with the regime’s opponents. The department’s achievements include spreading a fake photograph of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s daughter, portraying the student killed in Tehran during the February 14 demonstration as a Basij member, spreading exaggerated information on the number of participants in the pro-regime rally on February 11, and spreading information playing down the extent of the opposition demonstrations on February 14 (Rooz Online, February 22).
The Iranian regime and its opponents were engaged in a cyber war with each other also during the riots that broke out in Iran in the summer of 2009. During the riots, the Iranian Cyber Army claimed responsibility for attacking a number of websites used by reformist opposition activists, including the Twitter website; the website of Radio Zamaneh, a radio station based in the Netherlands and affiliated with the opposition; the website of the reformist student union of Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran; and Jaras, a website affiliated with the supporters of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. On every hacked website, the hackers left political messages against the protest movement and the West and in favor of the regime. At the same time, websites belonging to official institutions and media affiliated with the regime were attacked as well.