March 28, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Obtains Advanced Cyber Warfare Capabilities from Russia

March 28, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Obtains Advanced Cyber Warfare Capabilities from Russia

Latest Developments

Russia is helping Iran advance its cyber warfare and digital surveillance capabilities, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. The cooperation comes as the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence said on Sunday that Russia likely has continued to receive regular shipments of Iranian drones, such as the Shahed-136 suicide drone, and has launched 71 Shahed-style drones against targets in Ukraine in March following a two-week pause in late February.

Expert Analysis

“Russia and Iran have signed numerous cyber cooperation agreements over the years focused on technology exchange, training, and coordination in international institutions. Previously, these agreements yielded limited fruit, but Russia’s decision to provide Iran with digital surveillance tools significantly bolsters their strategic partnership. Given Russia’s superior capabilities, its transfer of knowledge and tools to Iran improves Tehran’s ability to suppress internal dissent and attack America and its allies in cyberspace.” — Annie Fixler, Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation

“Russia’s resumption of loitering munition attacks using the Shahed series of drones is further proof of Tehran’s role as a key underwriter of Putin’s war against Ukraine. Continued Iranian drone deliveries also enable Putin to conserve more long-range strike assets, thus remaining in the fight longer. Seen through this lens, Iranian weapons deliveries devalue Western sanctions on Russia’s defense industrial base. More drone deliveries by Iran also indicate that Iran’s leadership has gambled that Tehran can withstand whatever pressure has been applied to it thus far on the drone front and is confident that such pressure will not grow meaningfully.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Iran Monitors Anti-Regime Dissidents

According to The Wall Street Journal, Russia began providing Iran with advanced digital surveillance software at the start of the Ukraine war, allowing the regime to hack into phones and other digital systems used by dissidents and other adversaries. Tehran has used the tools against anti-regime protests raging in the country since September by slowing down internet traffic in targeted areas and stopping the spread of videos and communications among the protestors. It has also used digital surveillance capabilities to track down and arrest demonstrators.

Closer Military Cooperation

Earlier this year, Moscow and Tehran moved forward with plans to construct a factory to produce Iranian Shahed-136 drones — which Moscow rebrands as the Geran-2 — in Russia. A high-level delegation that included Abdollah Mehrabi, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force’s research arm, and Ghassem Damavandian, chief executive of the Quds Aviation Industry, visited a proposed site in January near the Russian town of Yelabuga. Both visitors and their organizations are subject to U.S. sanctions.

Related Analysis

The Dangers of Iran’s Cyber Ambitions,” by Annie Fixler

Iran, Russia Expedite Building Drone Factory in Russia,” FDD Flash Brief

Iranian Shahed-136 Drones Increase Russian Strike Capacity and Lethality in Ukraine,” by John Hardie and Ryan Brobst


Cyber Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare Iran Iran Global Threat Network Russia