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Iran denies successful cyber attacks on oil sector

ABQAIQ: Damaged installations in Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant are pictured. Saudi Arabia said its oil output will return to normal by the end of September. – AFP

KHURAIS: The dramatic weekend assault on two Saudi oil facilities saw one of the targets struck four times sparking fires that took five hours to extinguish, the national oil company said Friday. At the Khurais plant in eastern Saudi Arabia, a charred web of pipes and supports was flanked by cranes as staff assessed the extensive damage to an oil stabilizer apparatus.

The US has blamed Iran for the attacks, which have been claimed by Tehran-backed Yemeni rebels, condemning them as an “act of war” which knocked out half the kingdom’s oil production. “There were more than 200 to 300 people inside the facilities,” said Fahad Al-Abdulkareem, a general manager at the state-controlled Saudi Aramco oil company, as he inspected the damage.

The company flew in dozens of journalists, both local and foreign, on an Aramco jet to see the aftermath of the attacks which have ratcheted up tensions in the tinderbox region. “The whole thing had happened, with four strikes and explosions, with no single injury to any of them,” Abdulkareem said. Thick metal piping was badly warped and peppered with shrapnel during the aerial strikes and lay strewn around the area of the attack. Saudi officials this week unveiled what they said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired at the two oil facilities yesterday.

Despite the extent of the damage, managers remain optimistic that production can be fully restored by the end of September. “An emergency team was assembled to restore the plant and the activities and bring the crude and the oil back. Within 24 hours, 30 percent of the plant was in production,” said Abdulkareem. “We will have production at the same level as before the strike by the end of this month – we are coming back stronger.”

Cyber attacks

Iran denied yesterday its oil infrastructure had been successfully attacked by a cyber operation, after reports of disruptions to the sector online. “Contrary to Western media claims, investigations done today show no successful cyber attack was made on the country’s oil installations and other crucial infrastructure,” the government’s cyber security office said. The statement did not specify which reports it was addressing.

NetBlocks, an organization that tracks internet outages, tweeted yesterday that “network data show intermittent disruptions to internet connectivity in #Iran.” But it said the cause was unclear and impact limited, affecting “online industrial and government platforms” and specific providers. “Data are consistent with a cyber attack or unplanned technical incident on affected networks as opposed to a purposeful withdrawal or shutdown incident,” it added.

Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi has acknowledged in the past that Tehran has “been facing cyber terrorism-such as Stuxnet.” The Stuxnet virus, discovered in 2010, is believed to have been engineered by Israel and the US to damage nuclear facilities in Iran. Iran at the time accused the US and Israel of using the virus to target its centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.- Agencies 

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