A major cyberattack on a key Iranian port earlier this month has been claimed to have been conducted by Israel, a new report by the US-based newspaper the Washington Post has revealed.
On 9 May, the port of Shahid Rajaee in the coastal Gulf city of Bandar Abbas was hit by the cyberattack which brought all shipping traffic in the port to a halt. The attack by a foreign hacker was confirmed the next day by the Managing Director of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation Mohammad Rastad, who made the announcement in a televised statement.
Iranian officials said that the computers regulating the port’s shipping traffic had been targeted but had “failed to penetrate the PMO’s systems and was only able to infiltrate and damage a number of private operating systems at the ports.”
The report released by the paper, which cites unnamed cybersecurity and intelligence officials, now reveals that officials in the United States and other countries suspect that Israel was behind the attack, with operatives from Tel Aviv being accused of carrying it out in retaliation for a reported attempt by Iranian hackers last month, which aimed to undermine and dismantle networks that operate the distribution of water to rural areas within Israel.
Iran, however, has repeatedly denied responsibility for the attempted cyberattack. The alleged initial hacking attempt by Iran had significantly angered the Israelis who called it a “significant escalation” by Iran that “crossed a red line” as it targeted civilian infrastructure.
Israel’s purported attack on the Iranian port was reportedly much more severe compared to Iran’s attempted attack, with the Israeli retaliation being “highly accurate” with much damaged caused. One official claimed that it was so effective that “There was total disarray.”
The result of the cyberattack was a major traffic jam stretching for miles along the main roads heading towards the port, as well as one satellite photograph showing that there were still dozens of loaded container ships waiting offshore days after the attack.
Cybersecurity policy fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Centre and founder and former chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, Dmitri Alperovitch, told the paper: “Assuming it’s true, this is in line with Israeli policy of aggressively responding to Iranian provocation, either kinetically or through other means.”
Alperovitch added: “Anytime you see Iranian escalation, as with their buildup of rocket capacity in Syria, you have consistently seen Israeli retaliation with bombing runs on those positions. So it appears they have now applied that doctrine in cyberspace.”
Israel’s military and its embassy in the US, however, did not respond to the report’s allegations.