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Iran cuts off oil plants hit by mystery data-destroying virus

Lockdown as officials drill into malware riddle

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Malware discovered at an Iranian oil terminal forced Iran to disconnect key oil facilities on Sunday.

Authorities said an unnamed data-deleting virus prompted them to disconnect the main oil export terminal on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The websites of the Iranian oil ministry and the National Iranian Oil firm went dark for two days after the virus first struck on Sunday. The sites were back up on Tuesday.

Hamdolah Mohammadnejad, Iran's deputy oil minister, who is leading a response committee, told the official IRNA news agency that rapid action had limited the virus's spread.

"We shut computers connected to these servers temporarily and fortunately we were able to stop its spread. Thus no information or data were harmed," he said.

"We are investigating the causes of these cyber problems and in the next two to three days we hope the problems will be solved," he added.

David Harley, senior research fellow at anti-virus firm ESET, commented: "At present, it is difficult to say exactly how the virus (if it was, in fact, a virus) was able to infiltrate Iran’s systems.

"Iran’s computing environments are a little unusual, in that there are no legitimate channels for directly supplying and maintaining standard operating systems and apps. This may result in greater [than] usual exposure to all kinds of exploits."

Although details are sketchy, it seems like the malware is unrelated to Stuxnet, a sophisticated worm that sabotaged control systems running uranium enrichment centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility.

Harley added: "The Stuxnet payload is very hardware-specific, whereas this malware appears to have stolen and/or destroyed data. It may be related, of course, especially if it turns out that it is targeted.

"Without knowing the capabilities of the Iranian 'Cyber Crisis Committee', its usefulness depends on who is on it, their understanding of cyber attacks, and how much influence and authority they wield. It makes sense to have a proactive crisis management team. On the other hand, a team that is over-influenced by political or self-serving considerations may do more harm than good," the researcher said. ®

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