Iranian cyber-warriors a 'force to be reckoned with' warns US General

By Danny Palmer
21 Jan 2013 View Comments

Iran's growing cyber capabilities are a "force to be reckoned with", a senior United States Air Force officer has warned.

General William Shelton, commander of the US Air Force Space Command, made the comment to reporters at a Defense Writers Group briefing.

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While he wouldn't be drawn on whether Iran's cyber-abilities could result in an attack on the United States, but warned that the Middle Eastern state has been improving its capabilities over the past few years.

A Stuxnet computer virus wreaked havoc at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility in 2010. There's no official word on the attack, but it's been widely reported that it was a joint-operation by the United States and Israeli governments.

"The Iranian situation is difficult to talk about," General Shelton told the assembled press.

"It's clear that the Natanz situation generated reaction by them. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with, with the potential capabilities that they will develop over the years and the potential threat that will represent to the United States."

Shelton said the US Air Force plans to expand the number of civilian employees working on network security by over 1,000 in order to help counter potential threats.

The US Air Force commander's comments echo those of US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who warned that the United States is at risk of a ‘cyber-Pearl Harbour', with Iran among potential culprits.

"An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches," he said.

"They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country."

Panetta argued cyber-security measures must be passed by Congress to ensure protection against potential threats.

Last year saw a boom in in cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure in the United States.

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