Glenn Greenwald gives us another story for the files “What goes around, comes around”:
The U.S. Government often warns of increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks from adversaries, but it may have actually contributed to those capabilities in the case of Iran.
A top secret National Security Agency document from April 2013 reveals that the U.S. intelligence community is worried that the West’s campaign of aggressive and sophisticated cyberattacks enabled Iran to improve its own capabilities by studying and then replicating those tactics.
The NSA is specifically concerned that Iran’s cyberweapons will become increasingly potent and sophisticated by virtue of learning from the attacks that have been launched against that country. “Iran’s destructive cyber attack against Saudi Aramco in August 2012, during which data was destroyed on tens of thousands of computers, was the first such attack NSA has observed from this adversary,” the NSA document states. “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.”
The document was provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and was prepared in connection with a planned meeting with Government Communications Headquarters, the British surveillance agency. The document references joint surveillance successes such as “support to policymakers during the multiple rounds of P5 plus 1 negotiations,” referring to the ongoing talks between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and Iran to forge an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.
The document suggests that Iran has become a much more formidable cyberforce by learning from the viruses injected into its systems—attacks which have been linked back to the United States and Israel.
This would not be the first time the U.S. has inadvertently assisted Iran’s attack capabilities. Last month, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was convicted of multiple felony counts for telling New York Times reporter James Risen about an agency program designed to feed Iran false data about nuclear engineering in order to create setbacks, but which instead may have provided useful information the Iranians were able to exploit to advance their nuclear research.
The US government seems to be under the impression that it has knowledge that cannot be discovered independently by others and technology that cannot be copied or beaten. It undoubtedly has the ability to pour vast amounts of money into warfare of all kinds and recruit some of the best experts in any field. But these days, practically any country has the people and skills to reverse engineer the technology of another, especially when it comes to computer software, so any advantage is likely to be short-lived.