Iran’s atomic energy agency downplays hack of e-mail system

Iran’s atomic energy agency acknowledged on Sunday that its subsidiary’s network and its email system were hacked. A group that calls itself Black Reward previously announced the hack on Telegram and shared a cache of files as proof.

Black Reward posted files of contracts, construction plans, and details about equipment at Iran's Russian-backed nuclear power plant in Bushehr. The total size of the leaked material is around 50 gigabytes.

On October 21, the hacktivist group gave the Iranian government 24 hours to release political prisoners arrested during recent protests.

When the authorities failed to follow through with their demands, Black Reward released a trove of hacked data – although it still is not clear whether the material contains classified information. “Unlike Westerners, we do not flirt with criminal mullahs,” the group wrote on Telegram.

Soon after, documents and videos related to Iran’s controversial nuclear program began appearing online. One video published on Telegram allegedly shows the central hall of the power unit at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Black Reward also published the organization’s contracts with local and foreign partners, for example, specialists from the Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom. Their passport and visa information was also released.

World powers are talking with Iran about the possibility of reviving its 2015 nuclear deal, but negotiations are at a standstill – the US said on October 12 that Iran had not shown interest in breathing new life into the pact.

Black Reward’s statement, published on Saturday, ended with the words "In the name of Mahsa Amini and for women, life, freedom" – a show of support for protests ignited by her death in the custody of morality police (also known as the Guidance Patrol) last month.

Demonstrations have expanded in a dramatic fashion. Protesters have clashed with police and called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself, while the security forces have fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrations. According to estimates by rights groups, over 200 people had been killed.

The atomic energy organization's general department of public diplomacy and information played down the significance of the released data, saying that "this move was made with the aim of attracting public attention."

"It should be noted that the content in users' emails contains technical messages and routine and current everyday exchanges," state media reported.

Tehran also claims the hackers were acting on behalf of an unidentified foreign country. Iran had previously accused the United States and Israel of cyberattacks directed at the country’s infrastructure.

Yet, when a cyberattack paralyzed every gas station in Iran in October 2021, Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi didn’t assign blame for the incident. Raisi said that the attack was designed to get “people angry by creating disorder and disruption.”

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