In Iran, massive cyberattack puts power on the defensive

In a country where access to cheap gasoline is considered an almost inalienable right, the paralysis of the fuel distribution system is likely to cause a national earthquake. Tuesday, October 26, Iran was the victim of a “cyberattack” according to the Supreme Council of National Security. The hacking on an unprecedented scale has completely blocked the computer system allowing Iranians to refuel at a subsidized price, thanks to a digital card distributed by the authorities. This system, set up in 2007 under the conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, aims to avoid gasoline diversions by providing a certain quantity of fuel at a subsidized rate per citizen and per month.

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On Tuesday, no less than 4,300 gas stations across the country suddenly found themselves at a standstill. In some of them, sarcastic messages appeared on the screens, such as “Khamenei, where is your essence?” ” By midday on Wednesday, only 300 had been reconnected to the system, according to Oil Minister Javad Owji.

On social networks and Iranian media, videos still showed on Wednesday endless lines of vehicles in cities like Shiraz, Isfahan or the capital Tehran. President Ebrahim Raïssi himself came to a gas station in Tehran on Wednesday.

Heavy disavowal

The origin of the attack, which sounds like a heavy disavowal for the state security apparatus, is under investigation. The semi-official Fars news agency nominated the “Opponents” on a diet. The timing of this hack is not trivial. It comes a few days before the second anniversary of the demonstrations of November 15, 2019 that had ignited several cities in the country, after the sudden rise in the price of fuel. The movement had been violently repressed by the judicial system, then led by a certain Ebrahim Raïssi, causing the death of 230 people, according to the Iranian authorities and more than 400, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. man.

“Even if the regime faces a lot of dissidents from within, opponents alone would not have the level of competence necessary for a cyber attack with such a degree of sophistication,” nevertheless judges Clément Therme, specialist in Iran, lecturer at Sciences Po.

Enemies inside and out

Israel and the United States have traditionally been seen as enemies from the outside for Tehran. “In terms of propaganda, the regime always makes the link between enemies from the inside and enemies from the outside., explains the researcher. It is a classic intended to discredit opponents and a part of the diaspora which challenges the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. “

The Islamic Republic itself is no stranger to this type of attack. “Iran victimizes itself when it suffers a cyber attack while the regime uses the same modus operandi against Saudi Arabia or Israel. It is quite a double discourse consisting in using a tool of which one claims to be a victim. “

In terms of cyber, Iran actually has a good offensive capacity, but a very weak defensive capacity, as indicated by the National Cyber Power Index, published in 2020 by the Belfer Center at Harvard University. “The country has not benefited from strong technological transfers, as has been the case in terms of censorship with China”, explains Clément Therme. To remedy this, the Islamic Republic signed a bilateral agreement with Russia on January 26, 2021 to increase its cyber defense capabilities.

Eleven years after Stuxnet

The country had already suffered a series of cyberattacks in recent months, eleven years after the resounding Stuxnet virus that hit Iran’s nuclear program, causing breakdowns in their fleet of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.

In August, a group of hackers calling themselves “The Justice of Ali” broadcast a security video of Evin prison, where foreigners and political detainees are held, showing guards beating people up. prisoners. In July, the train network was targeted by an opponent group called Indra, disrupting station billboards. In April, the Natanz nuclear site suffered a major power failure, which damaged the uranium enrichment centrifuges at one of its plants. An act that Tehran then described as “Anti-nuclear terrorism” from Israel.

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