In late March, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against seven Iranian hackers, some of whom are believed to be responsible for the 2013 hacking of the Bowman Avenue Dam in New York. The hackers, who were likely contracted by the Iranian government, briefly penetrated the dam’s control system. According to Wired, “the seven Iranians for cyber attacks in the form of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) that hit a part of the US financial sector, as well as an intrusion into a small dam in Bowman, New York.”
The Bowman Ave. Dam is a tiny, 20-foot high dam 20 miles outside New York City. In fact, the dam is so small and insignificant that federal investigators originally thought the hackers targeted a similarly named dam in Oregon. Although the cybercrime might sound like an ominous threat to homeland security — just look at the headline picture used to illustrate the story in an Australian newspaper — the reality paints a different picture.
The Oregon Bowman dam, at 245-feet high and 800-feet long, doesn’t even crack a top-80 list of the largest dams in the country.
“I would say broadly that we obviously take…seriously all such malicious activity in cyberspace,” said State Department spokesperson Mark Toner. “We’re going to continue to use all the tools at our disposal to deter, detect, counter and mitigate that kind of activity.”
In the last six years, the U.S. government has seen a 680% increase in malicious cyber attacks, making the digital landscape the newest frontier in espionage and warfare. And although the cybercrime raised fears about the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure, it says more about the limits of Iran’s reach than it does about U.S. homeland security. Despite a recent international nuclear accord with Iran, relations between the Muslim nation and the United States remain tense, to say the least.
Even though some sanctions have been lifted from Iran’s economy, the country is struggling to attract investment in its own aging infrastructure. Despite the nuclear agreement, sanctions related to ballistic missiles and terrorism remain in place for the foreseeable future.