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May 10, 2024

Why Iran May Be the Most Likely to Launch a Destructive Cyberattack on the US

The ever-evolving landscape of cyberwarfare throws a complex web of threats at the United States. While China is widely recognized as the nation with the most advanced cyberwar capabilities, a recent interview with former Air Force intelligence analyst Crystal Morin sheds light on a potentially more immediate danger: Iran.

China: The Technological Powerhouse

The US intelligence community's assessment aligns with public perception – China poses the most significant cyber threat. News headlines consistently paint a picture of relentless Chinese cyber espionage targeting critical infrastructure, from energy grids to emergency response networks. The specter of Beijing unleashing havoc at President Xi Jinping's command hangs heavy. China's technological prowess allows them to burrow deep into networks, potentially waiting for the opportune moment to cause widespread disruption.

The Underestimated Threat: Iran's Destructive Potential

Morin, however, highlights a crucial point often overlooked in discussions about cyberwarfare – Iran's potential for launching a destructive cyberattack against the US. While China possesses the most advanced tools, Iran may be more likely to deploy them.

Here's why Iran might be a more immediate threat:

  • History of Aggression: Iran has a documented history of engaging in cyberwarfare. The infamous Stuxnet worm, widely attributed to the US and Israel, targeted Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. Iran has responded with its own cyberattacks, including a 2022 wiper malware attack crippling Albanian government systems. This tit-for-tat exchange demonstrates Iran's willingness to engage in destructive cyberwarfare.
  • Motivations for Retaliation: Rising tensions between the US and Iran create a volatile environment where a cyberattack could be used as a tool for retaliation. Any perceived US aggression, be it economic sanctions or military action, could trigger a cyber response from Iran.
  • Lower Threshold for Conflict: Unlike China, which may be cautious about triggering a full-blown cyberwar with potentially devastating economic consequences, Iran might have a lower threshold for initiating a destructive attack. This could stem from a combination of factors, including a perception of having less to lose or a desire to inflict maximum damage in a short period.

Beyond China and Iran: The Evolving Threat Landscape

While China and Iran pose significant threats, it's crucial to recognize the broader cyberwarfare landscape.

  • Russia's Destructive Potential: Morin acknowledges Russia's cyber capabilities, but views them primarily focused on intelligence gathering. However, Russia's history of aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere suggests it wouldn't hesitate to launch a destructive attack if cornered, potentially triggering a "mutually assured destruction" scenario.
  • Emerging Threats: Non-state actors and criminal organizations are increasingly sophisticated in their cyberattacks. Ransomware attacks targeting critical infrastructure are a growing concern. These threats require international cooperation and robust cyber defenses.

Preparing for the Inevitable

The possibility of a destructive cyberattack targeting the US is not a matter of "if" but "when." Here's how the US can prepare:

  • Strengthening Defenses: Investing in robust cybersecurity infrastructure across critical infrastructure, government agencies, and private sector networks is essential. This includes firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and continuous monitoring for vulnerabilities.
  • Intelligence Gathering: Enhanced intelligence gathering capabilities are crucial to identify potential threats, understand adversaries' motivations, and predict their next moves.
  • International Cooperation: Collaboration with allies on cyber defense strategies, information sharing, and coordinated responses to cyberattacks is vital.
  • Diplomacy and Deterrence: Open communication channels with potential adversaries can help de-escalate tensions and deter cyberattacks.
  • Public Awareness: Educating the public on cyber hygiene practices can significantly reduce the effectiveness of phishing attacks and other social engineering tactics.


The cyberwarfare landscape is constantly evolving. While China's advanced capabilities pose a long-term threat, the potential for a destructive attack from Iran demands immediate attention. By prioritizing investment in cybersecurity, fostering international cooperation, and actively deterring aggression, the US can strengthen its defenses and stay ahead of this ever-present threat.

Additional Considerations:

  • This article focused on nation-state actors. However, the potential for cyberattacks from non-state actors and criminal organizations is a growing concern.
  • The development of offensive cyberweapons raises ethical concerns about the potential for unintended consequences and escalation. The international community needs to explore ways to regulate cyberwarfare to prevent a devastating conflict in cyberspace.

By acknowledging the multifaceted nature of the cyberwarfare threat and taking proactive measures, the US can ensure a more secure future in the digital age.

If you are looking for an honest assessment of your cybersecurity posture – trust the cybersecurity and business continuity experts at Apex Technology Services.


Aside from his role as CEO of Apex Technology ServicesRich Tehrani is CEO of RT Advisors and a Registered Representative (investment banker) with and offering securities through Four Points Capital Partners LLC (Four Points) (Member FINRA/SIPC). RT Advisors is not owned by Four Points.

The above is not an endorsement or recommendation to buy/sell any security or sector mentioned. No companies mentioned above are current or past clients of RT Advisors.

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