Cyberattack blamed as Iran gas stations hit with major disruptions

TEHERAN, Iran – An apparent cyberattack caused major disruption to gas stations across Iran on Tuesday, just weeks before the second anniversary of the deadly protests against fuel price hikes.

Motorists were forced to wait in long lines as those trying to use government-issued cards that many in Iran rely on to buy subsidized fuel were prevented from doing so.

Instead, they were received with cryptic messages at gas vending machines that read: “Cyberattack 64411,” reported the semi-official ISNA news agency.

A spokesman for Iran’s oil industry website SHANA told NBC News that only those with subsidized fuel cards were apparently affected.

The issue was expected to be resolved within a few hours, with fuel still available, but at a higher cost, the spokesman said.

Government officials have not publicly confirmed reports that a cyber attack caused the disruption.

The Iranian Ministry of Oil did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neither the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company nor the Iranian Embassy in London.

The state broadcaster IRIB reported that “the disruption to the tank system of gas stations … was caused by a cyber attack,” according to Reuters.

“Technical experts fix the problem and the refueling process will soon return to normal,” said the broadcaster.

To date, no group has taken responsibility for a cyber attack.

The disruptions come weeks before the anniversary of the deadly protests sparked by a surge in fuel prices in November 2019.

They also came when videos posted on social media claimed showing electronic street signs hacked to read, “Khamenei, where’s our gasoline?” Apparently before Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

NBC News was unable to independently review the videos, but semi-official Mehr news agency reported that some signs had been hacked.

International sanctions as well as Iran’s political isolation mean that much of the country’s digital infrastructure relies on older, unpatched versions of Western software, said Amir Rashidi, an Iran-born cybersecurity expert and director of digital rights at Miaan Group, a nonprofit who advocates online rights for marginalized groups.

This makes the country particularly vulnerable to hackers, said Rashidi.

John Hultquist, vice president of threat intelligence at cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said there wasn’t enough tech to prove who was behind the attacks.

“I think it is too early to attribute this,” said Hultquist. However, he said that Iran could take revenge if it believes a particular country is responsible for the attack. “

“Information operations mean that perception is reality,” he said.

Iran has said it is on high alert for online attacks for which it has historically blamed Israel and the US.

Meanwhile, Iran has been accused by the US and other Western powers of trying to hack into their own networks.

In April, Iran blamed Israel for an attack on its Natanz underground nuclear facility that damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges.

The Trump administration was reported in 2019 launching a cyber attack campaign against Iran following attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

At the time, Iran claimed that US efforts had not been successful.

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