‘Enemy’s goal’ thwarted, Iran general tweets in Hebrew 2 days after cyberattack

Ali Shamkhani tweets in English and Arabic that the outage failed to provoke rioting; Tehran has blamed a foreign country for attack that crippled gas stations

A gas station is seen standing empty because the pumps are out of service, in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
A gas station is seen standing empty because the pumps are out of service, in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The day after Iran blamed a cyberattack that crippled gas stations across the country on a foreign country, an official tweeted in Hebrew that the “enemy’s goal” of fomenting unrest through gas shortages had been thwarted.

“Although the defenses of the passive frontline were inactivated by a cyber attack, the rear guard thwarted enemy’s goal of rioting in Iran through coordinated and timely action by the executive, security and communication agencies,” tweeted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, in his second tweet this week in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Persian.

“Intelligent management in October 2021 reveals the recklessness of October 2019,” he said, presumably referring to the deadly fuel riots that took place at the end of 2019 in Iran.

Iran has in the past blamed Israel of provoking unrest during protests. In July, Iran claimed to have arrested a Mossad cell that planned to provoke violence during demonstrations over water shortages in the country.

Tuesday’s cyberattack blocked the IT system that allows Iranians to fill their tanks for free or at subsidized prices with a digital card issued by authorities, leading to long lines and frustration as motorists became stranded without fuel.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said that the attack was designed to get “people angry by creating disorder and disruption.”

In this file photo taken on September 26, 2018, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, speaks during the first meeting of national security secretaries in the Iranian capital Tehran. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Raisi declined to point fingers at whoever was responsible for the incident, but added: “There should be serious readiness in the field of cyberwar and related bodies should not allow the enemy to follow their ominous aims to make problems in trend of people’s life.”

A senior Iranian official said Wednesday that the cyberattack affected all of the Islamic Republic’s 4,300 gas stations. According to the state-run IRNA news agency, 80% of Iran’s gas stations had begun selling fuel again by Wednesday morning.

Abolhassan Firoozabadi, a top official in Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, told state broadcaster IRIB that the attack had apparently been carried out by a foreign country, though it was too early to name suspects. He also linked the attack to another one that targeted Iran’s rail system in July, in comments reported by the IRNA.

“There is a possibility that the attack, like a previous one on railway system, has been conducted from abroad,” Firouzabadi said.

The cyberattack seemed to directly challenge Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the country’s economy buckles under American sanctions.

A worker leans against a gasoline pump that has been turned off, at a gas station in Tehran, Iran, October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The semiofficial ISNA news agency said it saw those trying to buy fuel with a government-issued card through the machines instead receive a message reading “cyberattack 64411.” Most Iranians rely on those subsidies to fuel their vehicles, particularly amid the country’s economic problems.

While ISNA didn’t acknowledge the number’s significance, that number is associated with a hotline run through Khamenei’s office that handles questions about Islamic law.

ISNA later removed its reports, claiming that it too had been hacked. Such claims of hacking can come quickly when Iranian outlets publish news that angers the theocracy.

Iran on one side and the US and Israel on the other regularly accuse each other of cyberattacks.

Israeli cyber experts on Tuesday told the Kan public broadcaster that this week’s cyberattack on Iran appeared to have been carried out by serious hackers: “We’re not talking about kids, but rather professional hackers — which doesn’t rule out them being backed by a state government.”

Video reportedly shot in the Iranian city of Ishfan shows a billboard with message reading “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?” amid a possible cyberattack affecting gas stations across Iran, October 26, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

In 2010 the Stuxnet virus — believed to have been engineered by Israel and the US — infected Iran’s nuclear program, causing a series of breakdowns in centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

Iran disconnected much of its infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet virus.

In 2019 Iran said that no cyberattack against the Islamic Republic had ever succeeded, after American media reported the US launched one during a standoff between the two countries. The Iranian telecommunications minister acknowledged at the time that Iran had “been facing cyber terrorism.”

In August, a cyberattack led to the leaking of video of abuses at Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

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