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How Dangerous Are Cyberattacks?

“It’s Time to Calibrate Fears of Cyberwar in Iran,” by Jacquelyn Schneider

“Cyberattacks certainly complicate things. A country that might not be able to attack the United States with an aircraft, missile or submarine can use a cyberattack to strike targets on American soil. And as the most common targets are civilian—electrical grids, hospitals, water supplies, transportation infrastructure—cyberwarfare disproportionately threatens citizens, linking American foreign policy with the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. It has the power to transform overseas crises into urgent domestic concerns.

“So it’s no surprise that ordinary Americans are more alarmed by the specter of a cyberattack than by the distant threat of an Iranian attack in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Israel.

“But while the doomsday scenarios—of Iranian cyberattacks knocking out digitally dependent infrastructure like electric grids or health services—are alarming, they are a distraction. Tehran is a capable and prolific actor in the realm of cyberwarfare, but it has no proven ability to create large-scale physical damage through cyberoperations.

“In an already dangerously volatile situation, the United States should not focus unwarranted attention on potential cyberattacks by Iran. Recent history suggests as much. Though Iran has launched cyberattacks on American dams, financial systems and government networks, their impact has been short-term, reversible and relatively limited in scope.”

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