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Iran says ports hit by cyberattack this week, but flow of goods unhindered

Officials claim electronic assault perpetrated by ‘sworn enemies’ who failed to achieve their goals through sanctions

The Shahid Rajaee port facility in the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas (Iran Ports and Maritime Organization)
The Shahid Rajaee port facility in the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas (Iran Ports and Maritime Organization)

Iranian officials on Friday said the country’s Port Authority had been hit in a cyberattack this week, a day after vaguely confirming that two governmental departments had been attacked.

The attack targeted the electronic infrastructure of the country’s ports to disrupt the flow of goods in and out of the country, but failed to affect the process, officials said.

The authority said the attack had been perpetrated by “sworn enemies” who “failed to achieve their goals” of hitting Iran’s economy through sanctions — an apparent reference to the United States.

It said “appropriate measures” had been taken in response, without elaborating.

It was not clear what other government agency had been hit.

Iran’s cybersecurity authority acknowledged Thursday that two departments had been attacked on Tuesday and Wednesday and were under investigation.

The report had said some other departments temporarily took down their online services as a precaution against further attacks.

A spokesperson quoted by the official IRNA news agency on Wednesday said the attacks did not cause any significant damage and were being investigated. He said the country has dealt with larger attacks in the past.

The Shahid Rajaee port facility near the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas. (Iran Ports and Maritime Organization)

Reports in Iranian media pointed to possible attacks on ports and banking, according to US-funded Radio Farda.

Iran occasionally says it has thwarted cyberattacks on its infrastructure, although it has disconnected much of its infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation, disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

A major cyberattack in May at Iran’s Bandar Abbas port was blamed on Israel, which has long accused Iran of using the port for military purposes to aid terrorists elsewhere in the Middle East, including Hamas and Hezbollah, with the IDF intercepting some of the shipments.

The May attack attributed to Israel was apparently in response to an alleged Iranian attempt to hack into Israel’s water infrastructure system. According to a New York Times report in May, the port was specifically chosen as a non-central target with the goal of sending a message more than to inflict actual damage.

Israel’s security firms and agencies have reportedly been preparing for a potential Iranian or Iran-linked cyberattack in response to the attack on the port.

There was a series of mysterious blasts at Iranian strategic sites over the summer which were largely attributed to either Washington or Jerusalem, or both.

This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The most significant appeared to be a July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, which was most likely caused by a bomb planted at the facility, potentially at a strategic gas line, but a New York Times report did not rule out the possibility that a cyberattack was used to cause a malfunction that led to the explosion.

Last year, Washington officials said that US military cyber forces had launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems, as US President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional military strike in response to Iran’s downing of an American surveillance drone in the strategic Persian Gulf.

In December, Iran said it had halted a massive cyberattack on unspecified “electronic infrastructure” but provided no specifics on the purported attack.

Tensions have escalated between the US and Iran since Trump in 2018 withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and began a policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran.

Tensions rose further after a US airstrike killed a top Iranian general at Baghdad’s airport in January. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike on Iraqi bases housing American troops, wounding dozens of US troops.

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