Saudi Aramco, the world's most valuable company, was recently hit by a nasty computer virus and the U.S. says Iran is to blame for it. According to a report by Nicole Perlroth in The New York Times, the attack (which happened in August) may have been one of "the most destructive acts of computer sabotage" ever unleashed on a corporation, erasing tens of thousands of corporate hard drives and forcing the company to shut down its email network.
Even though oil operations were not affected, the attack could have been the latest escalation in the ongoing cyber war between Iran and the U.S. and its allies. The virus, code named Shamoon, was likely based on the Flame virus that attacked Iranian oil companies for years. It's been assumed that the American and Israeli governments were behind both that virus and the Stuxnet worm that wreaked havoc on an Iranian nuclear facility two years ago. Now Iran is striking back, at foreign companies and banks, and—as is the nature with cyberwarfare—taking its enemies weapons and turning them back on their creators.
Even more troubling is the fact that whoever planted the virus had to be an insider with access to the internal network of Saudi Arabia's national oil company. The attack was timed to coincide with a major Islamic holiday, when the majority of Aramco's employees would be not be at work. A hacker group opposed to the Saudi government claimed responsibility, but a similar attack was launched against a Qatari company two weeks later.
And if a company so large and so important to the world economy can become a target then anyone can find themselves pulled into this underground conflict. Despite all the talk in our political debates about avoiding a war with Iran, it seems that the war is already well underway. It's just being fought on a different battlefield that we expected.