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Russia is not our only adversary

By J. David Derosier

 

I have been writing about international cyber-security attacks since the recent mid-term elections across the United States. I’ve focused on Russian meddling because that appeared to be what the news media, and perhaps our own government, were so focused on.

In addition to meddling with the elections, I have raised issues about meddling in our infrastructure – hacking the electric grid, the vulnerability of the computers now built into our cars, as well as used in the IoT (Internet of Things).

Russia is not alone. There are other major international cyber-security actors (players) that are a threat to our systems. China is big a threat to us, as is a smaller but equally fearsome adversary, The Islamic Republic of Iran, also known as Persia.

Iran is actively involved in the world of information warfare to promote its own interests. Most recently, in November of 2018, Reuters News Service reported that an Iranian-based agency has quietly fed propaganda through at least 70 websites to countries from Afghanistan to Russia, including the United States. More than 50 of those sites are using two American service providers to provide a cyber-shield of protection from spam and hackers.

The sites found by Reuters are visited by more than half a million people a month and have been promoted by social media accounts with more than a million followers.

Former CIA director John Brennan told Reuters that “The Iranians are sophisticated cyber players…There are elements of the Iranian intelligence services that are rather capable in terms of operating (online).”

Perhaps this information doesn’t surprise you. That Iran, which is the second largest country in the Middle East and the 18th most populous country in the world, would target its neighbors and it adversaries in the world of information warfare and propaganda.

What might surprise you is that this Middle Eastern country, that includes religious Islamic beliefs as the basis for its national system of law, celebrates the Western/Christian holiday of Christmas.

Here’s a quote from Javed Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, in a tweet on Christmas eve last year:  “May the spirit of Christmas give us all the courage to strive for a more peaceful 2015. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.”

Does that surprise you coming from a high ranking official in an Islamic State?

It turns out that Christmas is actually a big deal in Persia. It is celebrated in the small Christian communities as well as by tens of millions of Muslims throughout the country. Islam considers Jesus a prophet and Persians have taken up so many of our Western trappings of Christmas, including Christmas trees and wreaths, strings of lights, and Santa Claus. Santa can be seen in shop windows and on the streets at this time of year.

Christians make up less than 1 percent of Iran’s population. And yet the storefronts in Iran’s cities are full of Christmas decorations. (Google Images using “Iran celebrates Christmas” as the search terms.)

According to a report by the Middle East Program of the Center for Security and International Studies in Washington, “…despite the Christmas cheer, Christians in Iran face stiff restrictions. At least 193 Protestant Christians were arrested in 2016 as presumed converts to Western denominations. Staunch efforts to prevent conversions among Muslims mandate Armenians and Assyrians to check identification at churches to prevent Muslims from entering. But the restrictions do little to dampen the warm hospitality on the streets of many Iranian cities every December. There, Muslims and non-Muslims alike line up in droves to find the perfect tree while sipping traditional Armenian coffee from decidedly untraditional Santa Claus mugs.”

So much for now about the world of cyber-security. Relax and enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas to all!!!

  1. David Derosier consults with small business on planning and marketing issues, and provides web design and hosting services through OhainWEB.com, an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau that is rated A+ by BBB. He can be reached at JDAVID@Strategy-Planning.info