Iranian official disputes report that power station was hit by virus attack

An Iranian civil defense official claims he only said the country was ready to repel cyberattacks, media reports say

A power station in the south of Iran has been hit by a cyberattack, an Iranian news agency reported Tuesday, citing a local civil defense official. But now agency and official are in dispute over whether he really made the remarks.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) initially reported that cyberattackers had struck industrial infrastructure in the southern province of Hormuzgan, which overlooks the Straits of Hormuz.

The widely circulated report quoted Ali Akbar Akhavan as saying in a news conference that a virus had penetrated some manufacturing industries in Hormuzgan province, but that skilled hackers had helped halt its progress, according to a translation of the ISNA report published by Agence France Presse.

The attack, targeting Bandar Abbas Tavanir Co., an electrical utility, among other installations, had happened in the past few months and was "Stuxnet-like," the AFP report quoted Akhavan as saying.

But later Tuesday AFP published a new report saying that Akhavan had accused ISNA of misinterpreting his remarks.

"At a press conference we announced readiness to confront cyber attacks against Hormuzgan installations, which was mistakenly reported by the agencies as a cyber attack having been foiled," Akhavan told the Iranian state broadcaster, IRIB, according to AFP.

ISNA hit back, publishing MP3 files which it claimed contained Akhavan's initial remarks, and saying it stood by the accuracy of its initial story, according to a machine translation of the report.

In a further twist, however, ISNA also published a third report that, according to a machine translation, quoted other Iranian officials as saying there had been no attacks on electrical installations in the region.

This is not the first time there has been a dispute about whether a cyberattack has hit Iranian infrastructure. A report in late July that a virus was causing computers at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to play AC/DC song 'Thunderstruck' at full volume were roundly dismissed the following week by the organization's director, Fereydoun Abassi.

One attack the Iranians did confirm was the original Stuxnet attack. Officials said it infected 30,000 PCs in the country, including some at the Bushehr nuclear reactor. However, computer security analysts believe Stuxnet was written to attack the control systems of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at a different Iranian nuclear facility, Natanz.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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