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US accuses Iran of hacking energy companies

The United States has accused Iran of orchestrating a number of cyber-attacks against US energy companies, which officials have described as worrying.

Iranian hackers were able to infiltrate the computers behind oil and gas pipelines, in addition to electricity grids, gaining access to control systems and conducting surveillance missions.

“This is representative of stepped-up cyber activity by the Iranian regime. The more they do this, the more our concerns grow,” a US official said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “What they have done so far has certainly been noticed, and they should be cautious.”

US authorities have suggested that these attacks could eventually lead to attempts to destroy key facilities, citing technical evidence that linked the hacks to Iran. They also indicated that retaliation might be in order.

The attacks, which the Iranian government denies, are likely a response to the crippling Stuxnet worm, which rendered much of Iran's nuclear reactors inoperable. The sophisticated malware is widely believed to have been created by Israel and the US, adding new weight to the concept of cyber-war.

The problem for the US is that Iran was able to eventually neutralise the threat of Stuxnet, and it likely learned a lot in the process. With investment in cyber-defence up, cyber-offence becomes the natural next step, and vital infrastructure becomes a major, potentially devastating, target.