Iran Closes Gas Stations and Billboards After Suspected Israeli Cyber Attacks

A major disruption at gas stations across Iran was reportedly caused by an Israeli cyber attack on software supporting a subsidized card payment system relied upon by millions of drivers.

Although Iran still hasn’t pointed fingers at Israel, some experts believe the disruption happened due to the actions of Israeli hackers.

Problems in fuel distribution were reported in the cities of Sari, Tehran, Bushehr and Shiraz. Angry motorists were stranded in long lines at shuttered stations. The semiofficial ISNA news agency had earlier said it saw those trying to buy fuel with a government-issued card through the machines instead receive a message reading “cyberattack 64411.” The use of the number “64411” mirrored an attack in July targeting Iran’s railroad system that also saw the number displayed. Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point later attributed the train attack to a group of hackers that called themselves Indra.

The semi-official Fars News Agency said the attack may have been timed to coincide with the upcoming anniversary of widespread and violent protests that erupted after the government raised fuel prices in mid-November 2019.

“It’s certainly a software issue…The entire digital payment system had shut down due to security layers within the system,” Masoud Rezai, director of the company that manages the fuel card system told state TV.

The sudden pause in the fuel supply allegedly resulted in the some fuel stations in Tehran selling the fuel at hiked up prices as a substitute. Iranian security forces were also reportedly deployed to the city streets to suppress any anti-regime protests that could rise.

But most Iranians, squeezed by an economy that has suffered under mismanagement, corruption and American sanctions, depend on subsidized gas.

Not only the pumps may have been hacked. Photographs on social media showed digital billboards in Tehran, the capital, and Isfahan, another major Iranian city, displaying the message, “Khamenei, where is our fuel?” The question appeared to refer to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, perhaps suggesting a political motivation for the attack.

Video reportedly shot in the Iranian city of Ishfan shows a billboard with message reading “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?” amid a possible cyberattack affecting gas stations across Iran, October 26, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The semiofficial ISNA news agency reported earlier Tuesday that other billboards in Isfahan had displayed the words “Free fuel in Jamaran gas station,” an apparent reference to the Tehran neighborhood that was home to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s original supreme leader. It also reported that drivers trying to pay for fuel got error messages reading “cyberattack 64411,” the same number as a hotline in Mr. Khamenei’s office.

Within minutes, however, ISNA’s coverage of the hacked billboards had disappeared, a not-uncommon occurrence that sometimes indicates that the authorities have disapproved of a report. An hour later, ISNA claimed that the earlier report had been written by hackers.

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