Dr. Amit Sheniak is a is research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Cyber Security Research Center (HCSRC), and the Federmann School of Public Policy and Government, and teach as an adjacent professor at the Tel-Aviv University international program for security and diplomacy and the department of Asian studies. His research explores the social and political context and effect, of emerging and disruptive technologies and technological innovation processes. His latest research focus on cyber-policy and expertise formation and their effect on international order, sovereignty and legitimacy in the Middle East, USA and China. He also focuses on the theoretical connection between Science and Technology Studies (STS), Political Science and International Relations.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Lemons to Lemonade: The Evolution of Iran’s Cybersecurity Concept and Strategy
Between 2008-2010, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program was the target of what has remained the most sophisticated known cyberattack to date: Stuxnet. While no government ever claimed responsibility or the attack, which resulted in the explosion of hundreds of centrifuges in the Natanz enrichment facility, later reports attributed the operation to the United States and Israel. The Stuxnet cyber-attack—or, as it was codenamed by the U.S. intelligence community, Olympic Games—is often described as a watershed event that shocked Iran into the realization that it must establish its own cyber capabilities. Indeed, over the past decade, Iran has emerged as a leading force in the cyber domain. The common wisdom, as reflected in the existing cybersecurity literature, attributes Iran’s rise to cyber prominence to Stuxnet. Yet Iran’s own strategic discourse tells a different story. Drawing on primary sources in Farsi, including newspapers, social media accounts, official think-tanks and public statements, this paper shows that Iran’s interest and investment in cybersecurity predated Stuxnet. The paper tracks and explains the evolution of Iran’s strategic vision of cyberwarfare, through the creation of special bodies and institutions, as part of Tehran’s investment in internal and external coercive and deterrent capacities.