DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One of Iran’s leading steel companies said on Monday it was forced to halt production after it was hit by a cyberattack, apparently marking one of the biggest attacks of this type against the strategic industrial sector of the country of recent memory.

Iran’s government has not acknowledged the disruption or blamed any specific group for the assault on state-owned Khuzestan Steel Co., which is just the latest example of an attack that has crippled the country’s services in recent months in a context of heightened tensions in the region.

A little-known hacking group claimed responsibility for the attack on social media, saying it targeted Iran’s three largest steel companies because of their links to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards and Basij volunteer militia.

The group shared what it claimed was surveillance footage from the Khuzestan Steel Co. factory which showed a massive fire breaking out at a steel billet production line after the alleged disruption.

“These companies are subject to international sanctions and continue to operate despite the restrictions,” the group said. No other targeted company acknowledged a cyberattack.

Khuzestan Steel Co. said the plant had to halt work until further notice “due to technical issues” following “cyberattacks”. The company’s website was down on Monday.

However, CEO Amin Ebrahimi claimed that Khuzestan Steel successfully thwarted the cyberattack and prevented damage to production that would impact supply chains and customers. He said nothing about the explosion shown in the hacker group’s footage.

“Fortunately, with time and awareness, the attack failed,” Ebrahimi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency, adding that he expected the website of the business is restored and everything is back to “normal” by the end of Monday.

A local news channel, Jamaran, meanwhile reported that the attack failed because the factory was not operational at the time due to a power outage.

Cyberattacks have become increasingly common in Iran in recent years. The country, long sanctioned by the West, has been slow to update its networks to counter the growing use of ransomware by criminals, as well as intrusions by state actors.

In a major incident last year, a cyberattack on fuel distribution in Iran crippled gas stations across the country, resulting in long lines of angry motorists.

Iranian train stations have been hit with false delay messages. The country’s surveillance cameras have been hacked. State-run websites were disrupted. Footage showing abuse at the country’s infamous Evin prison has leaked.

Iran has previously blamed the United States and Israel for cyberattacks that damaged the country’s infrastructure.

Iran disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus – widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation – disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges at the country’s nuclear sites in the late 1960s. 2000.

Khuzestan Steel Co., based in Ahvaz in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, holds a monopoly on steel production in Iran along with two other major state-owned companies.

Founded before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the company then had production lines supplied by German, Italian and Japanese companies for decades. Service was continuous except during the disastrous Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sent his army across the border.

However, the crushing sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear program have forced the company to reduce its dependence on foreign countries.

The government considers steel to be a crucial sector. Iran is the top steel producer in the Middle East and among the top 10 in the world, according to the World Steel Association. Its iron ore mines provide raw materials for domestic production and are exported to dozens of countries, including Italy, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran’s crude steel output, however, was just 2.3 million tonnes last month, the WSA said. Its simultaneous decline in exports was widely attributed to sanctions imposed by Russia which flooded Chinese buyers from Iran with cut-price steel after it lost access to Western markets amid the war on Ukraine.

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