Cyberattack closes gas stations across Iran

“Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refuelling process will return to normal,” said state broadcaster IRIB as angry motorists were stranded in long lines at shuttered stations.

Cars have been queuing to fill up at some gas stations in Iran, while other stations have been abandoned, amid a nationwide disruption of the petrol distribution system. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

A cyberattack has disrupted the sale of heavily subsidised gasoline in Iran, state media reported, causing long lines at gas stations across the country weeks before the anniversary of 2019 street protests that followed fuel price hikes.

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Iran says it is on high alert for online assaults, which it has blamed in the past on the United States and Israel.

The United States and other Western powers meanwhile have accused Iran of trying to disrupt and break into their networks.

“The disruption at the refuelling system of gas stations … in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack,” state broadcaster IRIB said. “Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refuelling process … will return to normal.”

The Oil Ministry said only sales with smart cards used for cheaper rationed gasoline were disrupted and clients could still buy fuel at higher rates, the ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.

‘Where is our gasoline?’

The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of an increase in fuel prices in November 2019 which led to widespread street protests in which hundreds were reported to have been killed by security forces.

Videos posted on social media showed apparently hacked street signs carrying messages such as “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?”, in a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The videos could not independently be authenticated, but Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency confirmed that some signs had been hacked.

In the past, Iran has been targeted by a series of cyberattacks such as one in July when the website of the Transport Ministry was taken down by what state media said was a “cyber disruption”.

Multiple recorded instances of Stuxnet’s use on industrial infrastructure around the world can be found.

In retrospect, SSW says these were hacks to be able to gain access to crucial industrial components, as with Siemens for instance, which is used in centrifuges. Other tests included hacking into a German steel mill in 2014, and hacking hospital drug pumps.

Future versions of the virus became more contagious, able to spread through local networks and USBs.

How did they get in?

SSW thinks email phishing is likely responsible, where someone shared their password and username by accident.

“You can call it Pandora’s box,” says Social Standoff Weapon. It’s a new form of modern warfare.

While there were no casualties in the most recent attack that caused a power outage, it could have still resulted in a disaster.

In an eerie parallel, the anonymous computer scientists reflect about how the Chernobyl meltdown also occurred because the reactor lost power.

As the shadow war between Israel and Iran only escalates, increasingly advanced cyberweapons are becoming less discriminating over who gets pulled into the crossfire.

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