UPDATE: Iran’s stock exchange is down and the rial currency has lost 25 percent of its value. The attack, say analysts, comes from the United States, the Middle East or America’s allies, all of whom have targeted Iran in recent years.
Last week, Iranian soldiers stood outside a train station in the center of Tehran, defiantly shouting, “Somebody is waiting for you.”
They were waiting for them.
A new and dangerous cyberattack has hit the Islamic Republic, demanding Iranians’ personal data — and encouraging them to turn to the Bank of Iran or other financial institutions.
The Iranians have been busy filling up their cars with gas and waiting in long lines at gas stations, with many banks reporting slowdowns and confused customers.
While many Iranians have nothing to do with the oil trade or banking, the cyberattack is hitting at a time when Iran is on a fast learning curve as it establishes deeper ties with many of the world’s biggest banks. For the time being, that means quick attention to cyberattack preparedness.
There are no definitive figures about the damage, though the state news agency, IRNA, has put the number of victims at a “few thousand.” On Wednesday, the deputy head of Iran’s cyber security agency, Yahya Rahbar, said the “attack had affected only a limited number of banks and had no impact on those.”
Reports that the attack is deliberate, the work of intelligence agencies from either the United States or Israel, are thought not to be true. Rather, as the Iranian news agency IRNA points out, the Iranians were warned to “avoid opening old emails” and to “be very careful.” Some, however, say that the cyberattack is in fact foreign intelligence, meant to destabilize the country, ahead of midterm elections scheduled for next year.
Many experts and Iranians themselves believe that this attack is meant as a warning and a prelude to a broader effort by the United States and its allies to weaken and isolate Iran.
Others say, like the Iranian news agency, that Iranian was warning the government about foreign hackers who could tamper with its financial system or spy on government officials in case of conflict.
Interviews with a number of Iranians suggest that an attack on Iranian government computers and gas stations would only have given the cybercriminals the attention they wanted.
Many had always kept their fear of foreign espionage a secret, and many worried that if they had even a shred of information that could be turned against them by foreign hackers, they would never be able to leave Iran.
“If somebody comes to my house and breaks in, there is no way I can make the government provide me security for this!” said Sohrab, a psychologist in Tehran.
Cases such as this would only have created a sense of fear and mistrust.
With that tension at the core of the Iranian psyche, many say, a cyberattack would be seen as a direct threat to Iranian state security.
Another university graduate said she’d have been considered as suspicious and shallow if she had been unlucky enough to send an email to an unknown person — which, a number of Iranians say, they do all the time. But with a cyberattack, she was suddenly running scared.
“Why am I being treated like a criminal and thieves should be treated?” she asked. “If a journalist who talks about a bomb blasts gets killed in a terrorist act, should their family be shown a flower basket as a sign of gratitude?”
The Iranian government said it was “satisfied” with cyberdefense efforts — but it has urged Iranians to keep regular check-ups and, specifically, to use a two-factor authentication system with their banks. But many Iranians doubt that their banks can make their money transfers secure against criminals.
Reports of a cyberattack on the country, according to the chief of Iran’s cyber security agency, Mehdi Assaei, “definitely is nothing to do with us, and there are countries that will not have anything to do with it.”