The Department of Homeland Security, in its first annual risk assessment, said that the United States faced four major threats from Iran, including: cyber attacks, election interference, terrorism, and spreading disinformation on COVID-19. Iranian and North Korean cyber actors “pose a threat to U.S. systems, networks, and information” even though China and Russia are the more capable adversaries, according to the report. The following are relevant excerpts on Iran.
Nation-states will continue to try to undermine American elections. Threats to our election have been another rapidly evolving issue. Nation-states like China, Russia, and Iran will try to use cyber capabilities or foreign influence to compromise or disrupt infrastructure related to the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, aggravate social and racial tensions, undermine trust in U.S. authorities, and criticize our elected officials. Perhaps most alarming is that our adversaries are seeking to sway the preferences and perceptions of U.S. voters using influence operations. Americans need to understand this threat and arm themselves with all information available to avoid falling prey to these tactics.
While Russia has been a persistent threat by attempting to harm our democratic and election systems, it is clear China and Iran also pose threats in this space. The IC’s Election Threat Update from August 2020 and Microsoft’s announcement of cyber-attacks from China, Russia, and Iran provide further evidence of this threat and underscore the importance in public and private partnerships to secure democratic processes.
While Russia and China are the most capable nation-state cyber adversaries, Iranian and North Korean cyber actors also pose a threat to U.S. systems, networks, and information. Iran continues to present a cyber espionage threat and is developing access in the Homeland that could be repurposed for destructive cyber-attacks.
- Related Material: “The Invisible U.S.-Iran Cyber War”
2020 U.S. Election:
Iran will continue to promote messages supporting its foreign policy objectives and to use online influence operations to increase societal tensions in the United States. Tehran most likely considers the current U.S. Administration a threat to the regime’s stability. Iran’s critical messaging of the U.S. President almost certainly will continue throughout 2020.
- Related Material: “Iranian Media on the U.S. Election”
Iran will continue to develop and maintain terrorist capabilities as an option to deter the United States from taking what Tehran considers regime-threatening actions or to retaliate for such activity, real or perceived. The Government of Iran and its proxy, Lebanese Hizballah (LH), have demonstrated the intent to conduct an array of operations in the Homeland. Iran or LH could advance an attack plot—with little to no warning—in response to heightened tensions. The U.S. Government in recent years has arrested several individuals acting on behalf of the Government of Iran or LH who have conducted surveillance indicative of contingency planning for lethal attacks in the U.S.
- Related Material: “Timeline: Iran’s Assassinations and Plots”
Iranian online influence actors are employing inauthentic social media networks, proxy news websites, and state media outlets to amplify false narratives that seek to shift responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic to the United States and other Western nations. Tehran probably will continue to malign the United States for enforcing economic sanctions, arguing these sanctions hinder Iran’s ability to put forward an appropriate public health response to the pandemic.
• Iranian actors have spread COVID-19 disinformation and false narratives through videos, cartoons, and news stories from state media outlets on popular social media platforms to appeal to U.S. and Western audiences.
• Iranian operatives have covertly used proxy networks and sites to advance narratives suggesting that the United States created the virus as a bioweapon, that Western media is spreading lies about COVID-19 in Iran, and that the Iranian response to the pandemic was better than that of the United States.
- Related Material: “COVID-19 by the Numbers: U.S. versus Iran”
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