Iran admits expanded cyberattacks, claims it's identified hackers

But state-backed media reports are thin on details

The Iranian government acknowledged today that authorities have found evidence of recent cyberattacks against several agencies, according to reports by state-sponsored media outlets.

A week ago, the country's oil ministry confirmed that it and other facilities in the energy industry had been targeted by malware attacks.

Today, the Mehr News Agency said that Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam, Iran's national police chief, had claimed that his office has "found clues about recent cyberattacks on a number of Iranian ministries and companies."

Mehr is a semi-official arm of the Iranian government.

The report did not spell out what "clues" police had found, or which ministries and companies had been attacked.

"In cooperation with the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, the Intelligence Ministry, and the ministries which have been targeted by cyber attacks, we are investigating and pursuing the matter...and we have found clues in this relation," Mehr quoted Ahmadi-Moqaddam as saying.

On Sunday, Mehr reported that the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology had repelled a cyber assault, but did not put a date to the attack.

That ministry, like other Iranian agencies that earlier admitted attacks, claimed it had come out unscathed.

Also over the weekend, Iranian state-sponsored news media said officials had identified the hackers responsible for the original round of attacks aimed at the country's oil infrastructure. "The nature of the attack and the agents behind it have been identified, but because we are still working on the case, it cannot be announced," Press TV quoted deputy oil minister Hamdollah Mohammadnejad saying on Saturday.

Press TV is a 24-hour English-language network operated by the government-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting conglomerate.

Iran's government has not been shy about claiming it's the victim of cyberattacks, and regularly blames Western capitals. Typically, as in the case of the newest round, officials deny that any damage has been done and applaud the country's defenses for protecting important assets.

One of the few times that Iran has departed from that script was after news broke of Stuxnet, a sophisticated cyber weapon designed to cripple the country's nuclear fuel enrichment program.

In the fall of 2010, Iranian officials admitted Stuxnet had infected tens of thousands of the country's computers, including some at important nuclear facilities.

Two months later, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, conceded that Stuxnet had "succeeded in creating problems for a limited number of our centrifuges."

Western analysts, however, have said that they believe Stuxnet had seriously set back Iran's uranium enrichment efforts by destroying or damaging hundreds of centrifuges.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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