Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, April 26 (UPI) – Iran’s Oil Ministry, already battling stringent economic sanctions aimed at throttling the country’s oil exports, is having to fight on another front: cyberattacks.
In what may be an effort by the United States and Israel to disrupt oil exports, the backbone of Iran’s increasingly battered economy, the computer systems of the ministry and the Iran National Oil Co. were attacked Sunday by a virus the ISNA news agency identified without elaboration as “Viper.”
Key installations were knocked out for a time. Iranian media reported the ministry was forced to disconnect key oil facilities, including control systems at the terminal on Kharg Island in the northern Persian Gulf that handles 90 percent of Iran’s oil exports.
Terminals on the islands of Gheshm and Kish in the southern gulf were also hit by the virus. However, oil industry sources reported that oil was being loaded Monday at Kharg.
The semi-official Mehr news agency reported that oil production — pegged by Tehran at around 2 million barrels per day — wasn’t affected by the virus that crippled the internal computer systems at the ministry and the state oil company.
The ministry has called in a “cyber crisis committee” that includes 50 of Iran’s leading computer experts who were mobilized in 2010 when the country’s nuclear program was crippled by the Stuxnet virus.
That was the first major cyberattack on the Islamic Republic to be reported but some Western specialists say the virus was first unleashed against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in 2009.
Those attacks are widely believed to have been the work of Israel’s intelligence services, perhaps aided by the Americans, who have been waging a covert campaign to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program and assassinate key scientists.
No authoritative account of who invented and deployed Stuxnet or how it was inserted into the Iranian nuclear program to disable the centrifuge cascades at Natanz in central Iran has surfaced.
The centrifuges are vital components of the uranium-enriching process that’s at the heart of the nuclear weaponization program.
Western cyber engineers say the Iranians have been able to neutralize Stuxnet and have purged the malware from the nuclear industry.
Sunday’s attack was apparently the most intense of a series of cyberstrikes that began early in April.
Who was responsible isn’t known but the United States and Israel are widely seen as the likely instigators.