Iranian authorities are investigating whether a United States cyberattack on their radar systems was responsible for the missile strike on a Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 airliner that killed 176 earlier this month.
Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down on January 8 by an Iranian mobile air defence unit that was deployed to protect a Revolutionary Guard missile base at the village of Bidgeneh just outside Tehran. The strike came amidst heightened tensions in the immediate aftermath of Iran’s attack on al-Asad airbase hours earlier, an attack that was carried out in retaliation for the American assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
Following last Saturday’s admission by Iran that it had accidentally struck the aircraft, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a high ranking IRGC commander, stated that Flight PS752 had been misidentified by air defence batteries as a cruise missile. Iran is now investigating how exactly a passenger aircraft could have been misidentified by their systems, with the chairman of the Iranian Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati stating that “enemy sabotage” cannot be ruled out.
The claims have been supported by Deputy Chief of Staff for Coordination Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi who has directly claimed American involvement, suggesting that infiltrators at the air defence system may have also played a part in the downing of the plane.
The Americans themselves admitted just how vulnerable radar systems are to cyberattacks in 2018 when “ethical hacking experts” managed to prove that “Impregnable” U.S. radar systems could be easily breached after they carried out a simulated cyberattack.
The number of such attacks on Iranian systems has notably increased in recent years, with attacks as recently as last year seeing the U.S. targeting “physical hardware” to try and stop Iran’s so-called efforts to “spread propaganda.” The attempts by the United States and its allies, most notably Israel, to disrupt computer systems across Iran stretches back at least a decade with the most infamous attack being the joint U.S./Israel Stuxnet cyberattack against alleged Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010.
A special unit has since been formed to investigate the said claims that an American cyberattack and espionage could have played a part in the downing of Flight 752, one aspect of a wide-ranging investigation being carried out by Iran. The investigation has already seen several people arrested for their involvement in the accident.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile has called for those responsible to be punished for the disaster, forming a special court presided over by a “high-ranking judge and tens of experts” to investigate the circumstances of the crash.
The diplomatic fallout from the disaster has led to the international community dividing blame between Iran and the United States, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breaking ranks with other U.S. allies and stating that the victims of the incident would still be alive had it not been for the escalation in tensions with Iran that was partly triggered by the Donald Trump-led United States.