Readers of this post already will have seen news reports of the recent explosions in Iran. After the explosion at the Parchin military complex and the second at the Sina Athar Medical center, the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility site was hit. Explosions at a plant in Ahvaz and another at a factory in Baghershahr followed.
The Natanz explosion received the most attention in the media because it was a key nuclear site. The government claims to know the cause of the incident but it is not giving details to protect national security and this means that there is uncertainty about if the explosion was the result of a cyber attack.
It is now the usual response of the government to first deny the attack or dismiss the importance of the attack and then later shamefully admit that the incident was significant and damaging. This process was shown after the explosion at the Natanz facility that the government at first dismissed but then later admitted had caused significant damage that will setback Iran’s nuclear development by a year. This change in direction by the government probably was caused by pictures on social media from satellite images of the significant damage to the centrifuge assembly center. The final stage in the government’s response, that has been seen before, is to list the benefits of the incident that in this example are plans to rebuild the facility with better and more advance equipment.
Industrial accidents happen in Iran but the high number of explosions in the short time and the type of locations hit indicate that not all of the incidents were accidents. Cyber attacks are usually associated with damage to digital systems and computers and servers but cyber attacks can also cause damage to other types of machine and equipment. The explosion at Natanz does not look like past cyber attacks on infrastructure that make damage look accidental, such as the Stuxnet attack when the spin of centrifuges was changed in a way that would have been a result of human error or a result of broken equipment. In the Natanz example the explosion clearly appears to have been sabotage.
Who is responsible?
The key suspects at this time of course are Israel and the US. Natanz is a key location for Iran and it is certain that Iranian security would have expected and prepared for a cyber attack. This means that if the explosion was the result of a cyber attack then it was sophisticated and this also would indicate Israel or the US.
A new group called the Homeland Cheetahs sent a statement to BBC Persian journalist claiming the Natanz attack and describing the group as underground dissidents within Iran’s security forces. This statement was sent to the BBC before the incident was reported by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization but after some reports of the explosion were posted on social media. The Homeland Cheetahs group appears to be new creation with no history or presence on the internet that indicates that the group might be fake and might be created to add confusion and distrust in the security forces and take blame away form the real group or country who did the attack.