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Cyberattack hits Iran's gas stations, billboards

October 26, 2021

A widespread cyberattack has hit gas stations and billboards across Iran, halting some fuel sales. Billboards have been altered to anti-regime messages challenging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A worker leans against a gasoline pump that has been turned off, at a gas station in Tehran, Iran
Gas stations across Iran suffered a widespread outage, stopping salesImage: Vahid Salemi/AP/picture alliance

Gas stations across Iran were hit by a cyberattack on Tuesday, halting some fuel sales and altering billboards to messages challenging the regime's ability to distribute fuel, Iranian state television confirmed.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack that was aimed at undermining Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Altered billboards displayed messages such as "Khamenei! Where is our gasoline?" 

Sayed Abdolhassan Firouzabadi, secretary of the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, said on Tuesday evening that the cyber attack had been contained after affecting some 1,400 gas stations across the country, Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

What happened when Iranians tried to purchase fuel?

The semiofficial ISNA news agency referred to the incident as a cyberattack. ISNA initially reported that Iranians trying to purchase fuel with government-issued cards received an error message reading "cyberattack 64411."

That story was reportedly later removed without explanation. 

The use of the number "64411" copied an attack over the summer that hit Iran's railroad system. The number is affiliated with a hotline that runs through the office of Ayatollah Khamenei, which handles questions related to Islamic law.

Iranians rely on subsidies to fuel their vehicles, as the country is in dire economic straits due to economic mismanagement and crippling sanctions.

A Tehran gas station is empty because the pumps are out of service
Customers with government-subsidized fuel cards were unable to pump gas following the cyberattackImage: Vahid Salemi/AP/picture alliance

How did the Iranian state react?

Iranian state television shared images online of long lines of cars waiting to fill up in Tehran, without additional explanation. State media has also referred to the incident as a cyberattack.

State broadcaster IRIB reported "the disruption at the refueling system of gas stations" that occurred "in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack." The network added: "Technical experts are fixing the problem."

Iran's Oil Ministry said it is holding an "emergency meeting" to address the issue.

The disruptions occurred before the second anniversary of protests resulting from an increase in fuel prices in November 2019 that led to the deaths of hundreds at the hands of the Iranian state security forces, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Iran has faced numerous cyberattacks in the past, which it has blamed on the United States and Israel. Much of the country's infrastructure was taken offline following the Stuxnet attack on the country's nuclear program which disrupted thousands of centrifuges in the country's nuclear program.

ar/jsi (AFP, AP, Reuters)