Iranian hackers have upgraded their capabilities to carry out cyber attacks against foreign targets, it is feared.
A German intelligence agency said attacks emanating from Iran had hit targets in Europe and the US as well as Tehran’s regional rivals.
The targets in Europe included politicians, government officials, businesses, scientists and researchers.
The annual report by Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution warned of a heightened threat level from Iranian attacks.
“Iranian cyber actors have significantly raised their technological capacity to carry out cyber operations,” it said.
“We have to assume that Iranian actors will continue to strengthen and professionalise their efforts.
“We take it for granted that there is a continued high level of threat against German institutions from cyber attacks directed by the Iranian state.”
The main methods used by the hackers include spear phishing in which people are duped into handing over sensitive information.
One such attack targeted German companies by tricking their employees into installing malware on their computers.
As well as German businesses, Iranian hackers are thought to have targeted dissidents, journalists and rights activists living in Europe.
They have taken an interest in research institutions in Germany such as colleges and universities.
“In most cases, Iranian cyber attackers try to gain permanent access to sensitive information,” the report said.
Previous intelligence findings highlighted Iran's efforts to acquire weapons technology from unsuspecting European businesses.
The latest report said that sanctions on Iran gave the regime an incentive to acquire information and expertise through cyber attacks.
US sanctions on Iran were restored after Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers in May 2018.
Iran responded by breaching its nuclear activity limits agreed to under the deal.
Germany is one of the remaining parties to the deal along with Britain, France, Russia and China, who are holding talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the pact.
Iran targets dissidents
Tuesday’s report highlighted Iran’s efforts to spy on opposition groups with links to Germany.
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence is the main organisation behind these efforts, the report said.
But the Quds Force, an elite branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is also believed to be active in Europe.
Its efforts in Germany are said to be aimed especially at pro-Israeli and pro-Jewish targets.
“The Iranian intelligence services are a central instrument used by the political leadership to secure their claim to power,” the report said.
The 420-page document touched on a range of security threats including the growing menace of the far right and far left.
Right-wing extremism and terrorism are the “biggest threat to security in Germany”, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.
He said Islamist terrorism remained a serious threat to German citizens and the rule of law.
The number of Salafist followers in Germany reached a standstill in 2020 after “determined state action” to slow its progress, the Interior Ministry said.
But with the movement retaining more than 12,000 supporters across the country, there could be “no question of giving the all clear”.