By William Tucker
It is still early in the reporting on this claim out of Iran, but sources from outside the country have confirmed that Iran has been forced to take computers belonging to the Oil Ministry offline. If this was a deliberate attack, it would be the fourth publically known cyber attack against Iran since the discovery of Stuxnet. What is known thus far is that media reports indicate that a virus was detected at the Kharg Island oil facility forcing the Oil Ministry to take the equipment offline. This precaution was soon expanded to include the entirety of the ministry; however it has not caused any infrastructure damage, nor disrupted oil production.
It is significant that the Kharg facility was the first to discover the infection as the island is responsible for 90 percent of Iran’s oil exports. If this was a nation-state led attack, it would make sense to hit Iran’s oil sector as a way to augment existing sanctions against the country. This, however, would be a departure from other unconventional forms of warfare that have typically targeted Iran’s nuclear program in recent years. Targeting Iran’s oil infrastructure would be more inline with an attack aimed at undermining the regime. That is, if this was even a cyber attack at all, or perhaps, a known virus that exploited an existing vulnerability.
Of course, there are any number of angles from which to view this event, but a spokesman from the oil ministry made an interesting statement by saying that “some data had been affected but there was no major damage.” The U.S., along with several other western nations, have been pushing several countries in the far east to limit their business dealing with Iran, especially oil purchases. If the target of this attack was the data itself, less than legal dealings between Iran and its customers could be exposed and/or used as leverage by the attacking entity. Once again, this move would be designed to further isolate the Iranian regime. For now, however, there are many unknowns that make this development worth following.
Map: Cropped from a CIA wall map. Kharg Island (Jazireh-ye-Khark) is located near Bushehr (Bandar-e Bushehr).