Iran says identified source of reported cyber attack on oil industry

Official at Islamic Republic’s Oil Ministry tells Fars news agency that Iranian security officials were able to identify a computer virus designed to steal and damage data.

Iran has been able to identify the source of a recently reported cyber attack on its oil industry, an official at the Islamic Republic’s Oil Ministry said on Saturday, adding that a computer virus attempted to “steal and damage data.”

Iran refinery - AP - 23.4.12

An Iranian oil worker repairs a pipe at an oil refinery in Tehran - Photo by AP

On Tuesday, Iran’s Oil Ministry said its IT systems had suffered no lasting damage from a suspected cyber attack, but its experts would require two or three days to investigate and address the impact of the virus.

The virus hit the internet and communications systems of the oil ministry and national oil company late on Sunday, forcing Iran to disconnect the control systems of Kharg Island, which handles the vast majority of Iran’s crude exports, and a number of other oil facilities.

“Fortunately, because of the rapid measures taken by our experts, this ministry has sustained no damage to its computer data,” the head of the ministry’s civil defense team, Hamdullah Mohammadnejad, said.

Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying the cause of the problem was being identified and it would take two to three days for the issue to be resolved.

Speaking to the semi-official Fars news agency-run on Saturday, Mohammadnejad claimed the nature and source of the reported attack were exposed, saying the investigation was still a work in progress.

“The nature of the attack and the identity of the attackers have been discovered, but we cannot publicize it since we are still working on the case,” Mohammadnejad said, adding that, “in general,” the reported “attack was carried out by virus penetration and was aimed at stealing and destroying data and information.”

According to the Fars report, the Iranian official dismissed claims that the attack was meant to merely disrupt the Oil Ministry’s operation, adding that “those who design and develop such viruses are pursuing specific goals.”

The virus is likely to draw comparisons with the Stuxnet computer worm which affected Iranian nuclear facilities in 2009-10.

Iranian officials have accused the United States and Israel of trying to sabotage its nuclear program through viruses like Stuxnet.

Security specialists say the latest problems in Iran’s IT systems could be an attempt to impair Iran’s ability to trade in oil, or might even have been a technical failure.

The United States and its allies have imposed increasingly tough sanctions against Iran’s oil industry over its nuclear program, which they believe is geared towards producing nuclear bombs. Iran says the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only
EU member states have significantly reduced any orders of Iranian oil in anticipation of a total ban set to be implemented across the European Union in July.

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By Haaretz and Reuters