Iran, October 27, 2021—A mass cyberattack that disrupted gas stations across Iran on Tuesday has caused much fear and worry for the Iranian regime. The attack, which targeted the digital infrastructure of gasoline network, disabled the subsidized fuel services and caused long lines outside gas stations. Government officials urged the people to continue buying gasoline at market prices, but with most of Iran’s people struggling with economic problems, long lines formed at most gasoline stations.
The incident came weeks before the second anniversary of the November 2019 nationwide uprising that took place after the regime decided to suddenly raise the price of gasoline. On Tuesday, gas price billboards in several locations were hacked to display the message, “Khamenei, where is our gasoline,” referring to regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who decided to maintain the high price of gasoline despite mass protests.
The tension caused by the situation has caused concern among many regime officials. On Wednesday, regime president Ebrahim Raisi, who was visiting the oil ministry, said, “The enemy is seeking to cause sedition and you must prepare to counter these efforts.”
At present, there are two theories for the sudden blackout at gas stations.
The first, which the regime’s own officials and media are saying, is a massive cyberattack. If true, it shows how poor Iran’s cyber-defense strategy is. According to the regime’s own officials, the oil network is not connected to the internet, which suggests it could be an insider job or the work of attackers who have access to high-privilege resources. When seen in light of other incidents that have happened in recent months, it shows that the regime’s security is not as strong as it claims. Following the gasoline blackout, users on social media have been mocking remarks by regime officials claiming that “no target is invisible to the defense network” and “the enemy will get stuck in swamp.” Even the regime’s own media are criticizing the regime’s hollow boasting about its cyber capabilities. As on member of Majlis (parliament) said on Wednesday, “We have alarming information about the security of the system.”
Another hypothesis, which is being suggested by the people, is that the incapacitation of the gasoline network was intentionally carried out by the regime with the aim to cover the government’s budget deficit by raising the price of gasoline. The regime has a history of testing the waters before raising the price of major goods, which is why the people are suspicious that the blackout could be prelude to permanent cancelation of subsidized fuel.
Interior minister Ahmad Vahidi, who is afraid of another round of protests instigated by gasoline prices, said on Wednesday, “People must not listen to rumors. There is no plan to raise the price of gasoline.”
Oil minister Javad Oji also denied any plans to raise the price of gasoline.
But regardless of which of the two hypotheses turns out to be true, what is undeniable is that the regime is in disarray and a very tense situation. The regime is terrified that in the current situation that such incidents can quickly turn into a cause for protests. With the majority of the population living in poverty, Iran is on the verge of another social explosion that can be triggered by any disruption. And with the anniversary of the November 2019 protests nearing, the gasoline blackout could not have come at a worse time for the regime.