Cyber attack
Cyber attackiStock

US and foreign government officials say that an attack last week on an Iranian port facility appears to have originated with Israel, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

The attack on May 9 targeted the shipping traffic at Iran’s Shahid Rajaee port terminal. Computers that regulate the flow of vessels, trucks and goods all crashed at once, creating massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility.

Iranian officials later acknowledged that an unknown foreign hacker had briefly knocked the port’s computers offline.

Intelligence and cybersecurity officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post that the attack, which snarled traffic around the port for days, was carried out by Israeli operatives, presumably in retaliation for an earlier attempt by Iran to penetrate computers that operate rural water distribution systems in Israel.

A security official with a foreign government that monitored the May 9 incident called the attack “highly accurate” and said the damage to the Iranian port was more serious than described in official Iranian accounts.

“There was total disarray,” said the official, who spoke on the condition that his identify and national affiliation not be revealed, citing the highly sensitive nature of the intelligence. A US official with access to classified files also said that Israelis were believed to have been behind the attack.

The Washington Post was shown satellite photographs depicting miles-long traffic jams on highways leading to the Shahid Rajaee port on May 9. In a photograph dated May 12, dozens of loaded container ships can be observed in a waiting area just off the coast.

The Israeli Embassy did not respond to requests for comment. Israel Defense Forces declined to comment.

Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in the failed April 24 hacking attempt on Israeli water distribution networks.

In December of 2019, Iran’s telecommunications minister said the country had defused a cyberattack which was “aimed at spying on government intelligence”.

Last summer, it was reported that the US had launched a secret cyber attack against Iran. The attack reportedly wiped out a critical database used by Iran’s paramilitary arm to plot attacks against oil tankers and degraded Tehran’s ability to covertly target shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf.

Iran has disconnected much of its infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus which disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in its nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, though Israel did not admit to being behind it. A 2012 report said that then-US President Barack Obama ordered the Stuxnet virus attack on Iran as part of a wave of cyber sabotage and espionage against the Islamic Republic.