Iran has denied any role in cyber-attacks against two major oil and gas companies in the Persian Gulf, amid statements from the United States that alluded to the possible rise in Tehran’s capability to launch massive cyber-strikes against Washington and its allies.

The director of Iran’s National Center of Cyberspace, Mehdi Akhavan Beh-Abadi, on Sunday dismissed U.S. claims that Tehran was behind the recent cyber- attacks against a number of Persian Gulf oil and gas companies. Addressing a press conference in Tehran, Mr. Beh-Abadi said that US claims were bereft of any “technical basis”. “We interpret this issue politically and in light of domestic issues and election in the United States,” he said referring to the upcoming November 6 presidential polls. The Iranian official said he sympathised with the two companies, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco and Qatar’s Ras gas, which had been attacked by the Shamoon virus.

The cyber strike had apparently targeted 30,000 computers, wiping and overwriting files. In the words of Leon Panetta, the U.S. defence secretary, the Aramco files had been replaced by an image of a burning U.S. flag. However, analysts point out that apparently the attacks, however dramatic they might appear did not, even for a day, stall production in the two companies that had been targeted.

But that did not stop Mr. Panetta from citing the incident-using imagery of some of the most iconic national security disasters faced by the United States-to state how vulnerable U.S. networks were, to cyber-strikes that could be undertaken by determined foes.

“The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber- Pearl Harbor,” claimed Mr. Panetta, citing the surprise Japanese air attack, which firmly ingratiated the United States in World War II.

Mr. Panetta then drew on the 9/11 example to reinforce his exhortation for an exponential growth in U.S. cyber-capabilities. “Before September 11, 2001 the warning signs were there,” observed the defence secretary. He added: “We weren’t organised. We weren’t ready. And we suffered terribly for that lack of attention. We cannot let that happen again. This is a pre-9/11 moment.”

While Mr. Panetta did not state that Iran had directly carried out the Shamoon cyber- attack, he did say that Tehran had “undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage”.

After creating an aura of victimhood, the defence secretary warned “potential aggressors” that they “should be aware that the United States has the capacity to locate them and hold them accountable for actions that harm America or its interests”.

To ward off the supposed threat, the Pentagon, Mr. Panetta said, has been investing around $3 billion per year on cyber warfare-a figure which amounts to 40 per cent of Iran’s entire 2011 budget on military spending.

Writing in the World Socialist website, analyst Niall Green points out that, “ Whatever cyber- attacks the Iranian government may have had a hand in-and no evidence has been presented that Tehran had any involvement in the spreading of the Shamoon virus to Aramco and Rasgas computer systems—they cannot compare to the concerted campaign of cyber warfare and physical attacks carried out by the U.S. government and its Israeli allies against Iranian government, military and scientific institutions and personnel.”

In the past, the malware Stuxnet had caused considerable damage to Iran’s Bushehr atomic power plant and the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. New York Times reported in June that the Obama administration has speeded up a cyber- warfare programme, dubbed “Operation Olympic Games,” which had been started during the presidency of George Bush. The project specifically mounted “increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities,” the report said.

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