Secret files show alleged Iranian plans to sink ships using cyberattacks

Documents, reportedly by secret Revolutionary Guard unit, name Israel, US, UK and others as potential targets; also say attacks could be used to blow up fuel pump at gas station

Cargo ships idle in the Gulf of Suez, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Mohamed Elshahed)
Cargo ships idle in the Gulf of Suez, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Mohamed Elshahed)

A cache of top-secret documents, allegedly written by Iranian intelligence, show Tehran is building a bank of potential targets for cyberattacks, Sky News reported on Monday.

The files, screenshots of which were published by the UK news outlet, show plans for attacks that could sink a cargo ship or blow up a fuel pump at a gas station.

They also include researched details about satellite communication devices used by the international shipping industry, as well as computer-based systems controlling the lights, heating and ventilation in smart homes.

The five documents, spanning 57 pages in total, of which at least four appear to have been written last year, show an interest in cyberattacks against Western countries, including Israel, the United States, Britain and France.

They were written by a secret offensive unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ cyber command called Shahid Kaveh, the report said, citing an unnamed security source who said he was “very confident” they were authentic. Other knowledgeable sources said the documents “looked credible and interesting.”

The documents were said to have been written by “Intelligence Team 13,” and each begins with a quote by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “The Islamic Republic of Iran must become among the world’s most powerful in the area of cyber.”

“They are creating a target bank to be used whenever they see fit,” the source was quoted as saying.

Intelligence Team 13, he added, “are supposed to be rather clandestine. They work on offensive cyber operations globally.”

However, the documents appeared to be based on open sources and internet searches rather than privileged information, according to Sky.

Iran’s embassy in London declined to comment on the report.

One document showed diagrams of systems designed to keep cargo ships balanced even when they tilt.

“These pumps are used to bring water into the tanks through centrifuges and in order to operate correctly, the task must be completed with precision. Any problems could result in the sinking of the ship,” the document said.

It added: “Any kind of disruptive influence can cause disorder within these systems and can cause significant and irreparable damage to the vessel.”

Another file detailed information and photos of automatic tank gauges that track fuel flow at gas stations.

“[An] explosion of these fueling pumps is possible if these systems are hacked and controlled remotely,” it said, adding that an attack could also cut the fuel supply.

Another document examined satellite communications devices use at sea, called Seagull 5000i and Sealink CIR.

The file featured internet searches along with key phrases that included Israel, the US, the UK, France and other countries.

Commenting on the report, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky that unless steps are taken to counter the threat of cyberattacks, “our critical national infrastructure, our way of life could be threatened quite easily.”

Britain’s military cyber chief Patrick Sanders said Iran was “among the most advanced cyber actors. We take their capabilities seriously. We don’t overstate it. They are a serious actor and they have behaved really irresponsibly in the past.”

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