Iran takes oil refineries offline after cyberattack

Iran has shut down Internet access to six oil refineries in response to a cyberattack that may have infected some of its systems, according to reports.

The Iranian Mehr News Agency reported that the attack on April 22 was repelled before it could do any damage, but subsequent reports said the computer worm, as Mehr referred to it, could have done more damage than originally thought.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the attack, which struck Iran’s Oil Ministry, the National Iranian Oil Co. and other operations, took down some of their systems, which could be out for several days.

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Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted a spokesman for the National Iranian Oil Co. as saying the attack had damaged “some general information and data” but did not affect its main servers, which are not linked to the Internet.

"We have a backup from all our main or secondary data, and there is no problem in this regard," the spokesman said. Few other details on the attack, such as how it hit or what type of malware was involved, were released.

A notice posted on the Iran Oil Ministry’s website — which later on April 23 was itself offline — said that the malware, which it called a “virus,” damaged some hard drives on infected systems but only affected public information, and not any sensitive ministry information, ThreatPost reported.

One of the sites infected was the oil terminal at Kharg Island, which handles about 90 percent of the country’s oil exports.

Iranian officials said, however, the the attack had not affected oil production in the country, which produces the second-most amount of crude oil, after Saudi Arabia, in the Middle East.

In late 2009, Iran’s nuclear processing operations were hit by the sophisticated Stuxnet worm, which targeted programmable logic controllers in centrifuges used in uranium processing. Stuxnet, which spread widely but was specifically targeted, caused Iran to shut down its Natanz processing plant for a week. Engineers at the plant only recently succeeded in completely scrubbing Suxtnet from their systems.

Cybersecurity experts have considered the United States and Israel as possibly being behind the Stuxnet attacks, and a recent report said an Iranian double agent working for Israel had planted the virus using a memory stick.

Meanwhile, Iranian has been developing a “national information network” that would operate separately from the Internet, in part to muzzle dissent and keep out Western influences, but also to prevent cyberattacks.

In announcing the creation of a Supreme Council of Cyberspace, one official, apparently referring to Stuxnet, said, "We are worried about a portion of cyberspace that is used for exchanging information and conducting espionage."



About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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