Facing cyberattack, Iranian officials disconnect some oil terminals from internet

The New York Times reports: Iran disconnected several of its main Persian Gulf oil terminals from the Internet on Monday, local news media reported, as technicians were struggling to contain what they said were intensifying cyberattacks on the Oil Ministry and its affiliates.

Iranian officials said the virus attack, which began in earnest on Sunday afternoon, had not affected oil production or exports, because the industry is still primarily mechanical and does not rely on the Internet. Officials said they were disconnecting the oil terminals and possibly some other installations in an effort to combat the virus.

“Fortunately our international oil selling division has not been affected,” said a high-level manager at the Oil Ministry who asked not to be mentioned for security reasons. “There is no panic, but this shows we have shortcomings in our security systems.”

There were some reports that the virus had forced widespread Internet shutdowns. “The ministry has disconnected all oil facilities, operations and even oil rigs from the Internet to prevent this virus from spreading,” said another Oil Ministry official who asked to remain anonymous, because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the attack. “Everybody at the ministry is working overtime to prevent this.” His assertion about the extent of the shutdowns could not be independently verified.

The Iranian Students’ News Agency said that the virus, called “wiper” by its creator, had successfully erased information on hard disks at the Oil Ministry’s headquarters, a hulking black glass skyscraper on Taleghani Street in central Tehran. The ministry appears to have been the initial target of the virus, which the Iranian authorities say they first noticed in March but apparently were unable to dismantle.

The Web sites of several oil related institutions, like the National Iranian Oil Company, which handles most oil sales in the country, were down on Sunday and Monday. It was unclear whether the virus took the sites down or if they were switched off by the Oil Ministry.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports: Iran has been forced to deploy more than half its fleet of supertankers to store oil at anchorage in the Gulf as buyers of its crude cut back because of sanctions, two Iran-based shipping sources said.

The sources, who are familiar with operations at Iran’s main export terminal Kharg Island in the north of the Gulf, said 14 of National Iranian Tanker Company’s (NITC) fleet of 25 very large crude carriers, each loaded with about 2 million barrels of oil, are now at anchor acting as floating storage.

A further five of Iran’s nine Suezmax tankers, with capacity of one million barrels, are also parked offshore with oil aboard.

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