Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, the head of Iran's Civil Defense Organization, warned on January 29 that Tehran’s foreign adversaries are increasingly tapping into “social media and personal smart phones to carry out espionage operations against people.” According to Jalali, the latest smart phone technologies are so sophisticated that unsuspecting citizens in Iran can become collectors of information for foreign intelligence services. Jalili was speaking as part of a conference on “civil defense.” Another speaker at the conference alleged that the US has launched a new project called “Nitro Zeus with the aim of attacking Iran's defense and telecommunication infrastructures” and that this project is more dangerous than Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm that seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear program.
By all accounts Nitro Zeus is not a new project, and its existence has been discussed in Western media for some time. The only plausible reason for the Iranian authorities to raise the issue in such a public fashion and with such an alarmist tone is to give the impression inside Iran about the invincibility of Iran’s defenses against foreign cyber attacks. However, such conferences are also designed to remind ordinary Iranians that state agencies have both the desire and the capacity to monitor all cyber and social media activities.