Iran: New Cyber-Attacks Target Telecoms, Nuclear Infrastructure

Iran said an attempted cyber-attack had threatened to disrupt its telecommunications network, after saying last week it had discovered a new version of the Stuxnet malware targeting its nuclear infrastructure.

Separately, former US intelligence officials claimed dozens of US spies were killed in Iran and China following a communications disaster that allowed foreign powers to track down agents via Google.

Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s  communications minister, claimed Israel was responsible for the cyber-attacks on its telecoms network on Monday, which he said had been repelled.

“Thanks to the vigilance of the technical teams, they returned empty-handed,” Jahromi said on Twitter. “We will pursue this hostile act through international bodies.”

New Stuxnet

Last week Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s civil defense agency, said Iran had discovered and neutralised a new version of Stuxnet, malware widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel to target Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

“Recently we discovered a new generation of Stuxnet which consisted of several parts … and was trying to enter our systems,” the ISNA news agency reported Jalali as saying.

In June 2012 The Washington Post reported that the NSA, the CIA and Israeli forces had worked together to develop Stuxnet, which attacked Iran’s facilities in 2011.

At the time, the malware was the first known to have been used by a nation-state to attack industrial infrastructure — now an increasing threat.

In 2015 Iran agreed to rein in its nuclear programme as part of a deal alleviating international sanctions, but the current US administration withdrew from that deal and on Monday reimposed complete sanctions.

CIA secrets uncovered

Separately, eleven unnamed former US intelligence officials have claimed that the US’ use of a flawed online communications system allowed dozens of informants to be identified and executed after the system was compromised between 2009 and 2013.

The online system was not initially built to be used for intelligence purposes, and was initially only used by soldiers in war zones, but was later adopted by agents due to its efficiency, Yahoo News reported over the weekend.

In 2009, after reports of Iran’s nuclear programme came to light, the Iranian government initiated an intesive search for moles that succeeded in compromising the communications system, the officials said.

China was later also able to crack the system, which continued in use for years in spite of warnings that it was insecure, according to the report.

Google used to track agents

The officials claimed that counter-espionage agents were able to uncover the secret CIA communications websites via Google.

“We’re still dealing with the fallout,” one former national security official said. “Dozens of people around the world were killed because of this.”

The report cited rings of 30 agents each in Iran and China who were arrested and in some cases executed due to the “catastrophic” security failure.

Agents in Russia were reportedly able to change communications channels before any damage was caused.

The former officials said there had been no accountability for the failure, with one stating that “our biggest insider threat is our own institution”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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