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Iranian dissident group says it hacked 5,000 surveillance cameras in Tehran

Attack also defaces websites with graphics criticizing the ‘anti-human Khomeini,’ ahead of events marking anniversary of Islamic Republic founder’s death

Screenshot taken from a video apparently released by Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq as evidence of its successful hack of state-owned CCTVs in Tehran. (Screenshot/Twitter)
Screenshot taken from a video apparently released by Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq as evidence of its successful hack of state-owned CCTVs in Tehran. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Government-run surveillance cameras around Iran’s capital reportedly were “disrupted” Thursday, while an exile group claimed it hacked into over 5,000 cameras around Tehran ahead of commemoration events honoring the founder of the Islamic Republic.

The Young Journalists Club, an affiliate of Iranian state television, acknowledged the disruption on Twitter after the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq claimed it penetrated the cameras, including around the mausoleum of the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The website for Tehran’s municipality also went down, as well as “communication systems” used by the city, the report said.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency later quoted Tehran’s municipality as acknowledging the hack.

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq released a video clip it claimed showed the municipality website and others defaced with a graphic that criticized the “anti-human Khomeini.” It also included an image of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with a red “X” over his face, as well as images of MEK leaders Massoud Rajavi and his wife, Maryam Rajavi, while calling for an “uprising until overthrow.”

“Down with Khamenei, Raisi, curses on Khomeini,” the graphic read.

Massoud Rajavi hasn’t been seen publicly in nearly two decades and is presumed to have died. Maryam Rajavi now runs the MEK. Khomeini, who led Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, died June 3, 1989.

The hack comes after another cyber assault in January that included a graphic calling for the death of the country’s supreme leader, which played on multiple state TV channels.

Ayatollah Khomeini speaks to followers at Behesht Zahra Cemetery after his arrival in Tehran, Iran, ending 14 years of exile, February 1 1979. (AP Photo/FY)

In October, an assault on Iran’s fuel distribution system paralyzed gas stations nationwide, leading to long lines of angry motorists unable to get subsidized fuel for days. A cyberattack on Iran’s railway system caused chaos and train delays. Another hack leaked footage of abuses at its notorious Evin prison.

Iran, long sanctioned by the West, faces difficulties in getting up-to-date hardware and software, often relying on Chinese-manufactured electronics or older systems. Pirated versions of Windows and other software are common across Iran. That makes it easier for potential hackers to target the country.

The MEK began as a Marxist group opposing the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It claimed and was suspected in a series of attacks against US officials in Iran in the 1970s, something the group now denies.

It supported the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but soon had a falling out with Khomeini and turned against the cleric. It carried out a series of assassinations and bombings targeting the young Islamic Republic.

The MEK later fled to Iraq and backed dictator Saddam Hussein during his bloody eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s. That saw many oppose the group in Iran. Although largely based in Albania, to this day the group claims to operate a network inside Iran.

Cars and motorbikes queue to fill up at a service station in Iran’s capital Tehran on October 26, 2021, amid a nationwide disruption of the petrol distribution system. (Atta KENARE / AFP)

Thursday’s cyber attack comes less than a day after the FBI said it thwarted a planned cyberattack on a children’s hospital in Boston that would have been carried out by hackers sponsored by the Iranian government.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Boston College cybersecurity conference Tuesday that his agents learned of the planned digital attack from an unspecified intelligence partner and got Boston Children’s Hospital the information it needed last summer to block what would have been “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve seen.”

Also on Tuesday, former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot said Iran would have obtained nuclear weapons years ago if not for undercover Israeli operations against the Islamic Republic.

“Israel carries out diverse operations, most of which are covert, to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities,” Gadi Eisenkot declared during a security conference held at Netanya Academic College.

Israel and Iran have been waging a shadow war for years, which seems to have intensified in recent months. On Tuesday night, dozens of Israeli Air Force fighter jets conducted air maneuvers over the Mediterranean Sea, simulating striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

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