Iranians Face Hours-Long Wait for Gas After Cyberattack Closes Most of Country's Stations

Long lines of cars formed outside gas stations in Iran on Tuesday after a cyberattack shut down pumps across the country, forcing motorists to wait hours for fuel, the Associated Press reported. No group or organization has claimed responsibility for the attack.

An unnamed official from Iran's National Security Council was quoted acknowledging the cyberattack on state television. Journalists from AP also saw lines of cars form at gas stations in Tehran, Iran's capital, where pumps were shut off and the stations closed.

"I have been waiting a couple of hours for the gas stations to reopen so that I can fill up," said a motorcyclist who gave his name only as Farzin. "There is no fuel wherever I go."

The attack also suspended the functionality of the government-issued electronic cards that many of the country's residents rely on to purchase subsidized fuel at gas pumps. ISNA, a semiofficial news agency in Iran, said that it saw some Iranians attempting to use their cards at pumps and received a message that read "cyberattack 64411."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Iran Cyberattack
Gas stations across Iran on Tuesday suffered through a widespread outage of a system that allows consumers to buy fuel with a government-issued card, stopping sales. One semiofficial news agency referred to the incident as a cyberattack. Above, a worker leans against a gasoline pump that has been turned off at a gas station in Tehran. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo

The attack bore similarities to another attack months earlier that seemed to directly challenge Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the country's economy buckles under American sanctions. Those economic problems worsen as the U.S. and Iran have yet to jointly re-enter Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

While ISNA didn't acknowledge the significance of the number in the "cyberattack 64411" message, that number is associated with a hotline run through Khamenei's office that handles questions about Islamic law. ISNA later removed its reports, claiming that it too had been hacked. Such claims of hacking can come quickly when Iranian outlets publish news that angers the theocracy.

Farsi-language satellite channels abroad published videos apparently shot by drivers in Isfahan, a major Iranian city, showing electronic billboards there reading: "Khamenei! Where is our gas?" Another said: "Free gas in Jamaran gas station," a reference to the home of the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

State TV said Oil Ministry officials were holding an "emergency meeting" to solve the problem. Some gas stations that accept only cash and are not in the subsidy card network continued pumping fuel.

The use of the number "64411" mirrored an attack in July targeting Iran's railroad system that also saw the number displayed. Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point later attributed the train attack to a group of hackers that called themselves Indra, after the Hindu god of war.

Indra previously targeted firms in Syria, where President Bashar Assad has held onto power through Iran's intervention in his country's grinding war.

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world's fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes.

Subsidies allow Iranian motorists to buy regular gasoline at 15,000 rials per liter. That's 5 cents a liter, or about 20 cents a gallon. After a monthly 60-liter quota, it costs 30,000 rials a liter. That's 10 cents a liter or 41 cents a gallon. Regular gasoline costs 89 cents a liter or $3.38 a gallon on average in the U.S., according to AAA.

In 2019, Iran faced days of mass protests across some 100 cities and towns over gasoline prices rising. Security forces arrested thousands and Amnesty International said it believes 304 people were killed in a government crackdown. Tuesday's cyberattack came in the same month in the Persian calendar as the gasoline protests in 2019.

The attack also came on the birthday of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who, stricken with cancer, fled the country in 1979 just before the Islamic Revolution.

Iran has faced a series of cyberattacks, including one that leaked video of abuses at its notorious Evin prison in August.

The country disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus—widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation—disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country's nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

Cars Wait for Gas in Iran
Long lines of cars formed outside gas stations in Iran on Tuesday after a cyberattack shut down pumps across the country, forcing motorists to wait hours. Above, cars wait in line in Tehran. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo