Iran Oil Ministry Hit by Virus: Another Shot in the Cyber War?
A computer virus infection hit Iran's oil ministry, wiping out data and forcing the ministry offline. The source of the Iran virus infection is not yet known, but in the wake of Stuxnet, it could be a further indication that cyber war is now a fact of life.
So far, cyber war is less destructive than other forms of warfare. It targets and destroys data, not people. But like other forms of warfare, it may involve poorly aimed ordnance and can produce "collateral damage." Midsize firms might find themselves among the accidental targets, giving IT managers at these firms one more cause of security headaches.
The Iranian oil ministry is--perhaps not surprisingly--providing few details on the incident. What is known, as reported by Alexander Abad-Santos at The Atlantic Wire, is that a virus infected the ministry's servers, wiping out data and knocking the ministry offline.
Abad-Santos wryly asks whether Iranian oil officials clicked on "shady email links." And he points out that, in all fairness, Western government agencies have also been knocked offline by viruses, with no particular indications that these incidents were targeted attacks.
But in view of the international tensions surrounding Iran and the apparent Stuxnet attack on the Iranian nuclear development program, it is reasonable to suspect that the virus that hit Iran's oil ministry was not launched by a bored teenager or even an ordinary cyber criminal.
The Stuxnet worm attack is believed to have destroyed up to thousands of centrifuges used to refine Iran's nuclear materials to bomb-grade strength. And oil is also a critical strategic Iranian industry, with oil exports under international sanction. The US or Israel might well have deployed a virus, either to obtain information about Iran's oil traffic or simply to hamper the ministry's operations.
The Age of Cyber War
We will probably not find out soon (if ever) exactly what happened or who was behind it. But the fact that international power politics are even implicated is a new part of the information security environment.
And this is the environment that IT managers at midsize firms must take into account. The Stuxnet worm infected thousands of computer networks outside of Iran, but the weapon was carefully designed and evidently had no effect save on its intended targets.
This precision is not always to be counted on in future attacks. Designers of future cyber weapons may be less skilled in targeting their payloads. Or they may simply be unconcerned about the side effects of their attacks.
Midsize firms might also find themselves deliberately targeted, either because their operations are considered strategic by some potential enemy or because their customers are strategic targets. Firms in sensitive industries should consider taking special precautions and consulting with security partners.
For other midsize firms, the threat of being drawn into cyber war is one more reason to pay serious attention to security basics.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.