Iran has invested heavily in its cyber-attack forces since the Stuxnet attack in 2010 – which saw the US and Israel degrade Iran’s nuclear capabilities by means of a computer virus. It has demonstrated its capabilities with attacks on US banks and a small dam, and the US has countered with attacks on an Iranian intelligence group and missile launchers.
“We’ve seen a little espionage and sabotage, but we haven’t seen that spill over into bloodshed,” Josephine Wolff, a professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University Fletcher School, said in an interview on Friday. “Are they equipped to take out the power grid for a major portion of the populace? From the way they are talking right now, it sounds like if they do have those kinds of capabilities, this is the moment they might consider using them.”
Historically, cyber-attacks between the US and Iran have de-escalated conflict between the two countries, Wolff said, providing a means to confront one another non-violently. The killing of Suleimani may bring an end to that pattern, however.