BERLIN, July 24 (Reuters)
Iran has expanded its cyber attack capabilities and poses a danger to German companies and research institutions, Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency said in its annual report.
The report, released on Tuesday by German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the BfV agency, cited steadily increasing cyber attacks with a likely origin in Iran since 2014, and said numerous such attacks were seen on German targets in 2017.
While fighting to preserve the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran after the U.S. withdrawal, Germany has also become increasingly vocal with its concerns about Iran's missile development activities, its backing for militant groups in regional conflicts, and spying activities.
In January, the foreign ministry summoned Iran's ambassador to reprimand Tehran for spying on individuals and groups with close ties to Israel, calling such acts a completely unacceptable breach of German law.
The new intelligence report said cyber attacks believed to be backed by Iran were mainly aimed at the German government, dissidents, human rights organisations, research centres and the aerospace, defence and petrochemical industries.
"The observed cyber campaigns are developing such efficacy that the operations initiated and guided by intelligence agencies to gain information could pose a danger to German companies and research institutions," the report said.
It said Iranian hackers mainly used malicious software that was publicly available, along with social engineering tools, often exhibiting great patience until sites were infected.
"Compared to Russian or Chinese attacks, a qualitative difference can no longer be ascertained," it added. "Iran has established itself as a capable and potent actor in the realm of cyber espionage. A further expansion of its capacities and the willingness to use these possibilities is likely."
The 355-page report said Russia, China and Iran constituted the biggest cyber and espionage threats to Germany, but other countries such as India and Vietnam, and even some western states, were also active.
Moscow continued to expend significant organisational and financial resources to target German political, economic, academic and technical targets, as well the military, through espionage and cyber activities, the report said.
It said Russian intelligence agencies continued their efforts to affect public opinion in Germany through propaganda and other means, and those were likely to continue even after the 2017 German election.
"Such disinformation and propaganda campaigns are meant to destabilise the German government and weaken its position as a proponent of extending (European Union) sanctions against Russia," the report concluded.