Petrol stations across Iran halted sales on Tuesday after a government system controlling fuel subsidies suffered a widespread power cut, in an incident described briefly by semi-official ISNA news agency as a "cyber attack".
Images shared on a state TV Telegram account showed long queues of cars waiting to fill up in Tehran, only weeks before the country was due to mark the anniversary of the 2019 fuel protests which broke out after prices increased by up to 200 per cent.
No explanation was given by officials about what caused the issue on Tuesday but oil ministry officials were holding an “emergency meeting” to solve the technical problem.
Iran's Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Tuesday said the disruption at some gas stations was “due to a technical and systemic problem and will be fixed soon”. He said that there was no plan to increase the price of petrol.
The semi-official ISNA news agency called the incident a cyber attack but later retracted the statement. It reported that those trying to buy fuel with a government-issued card through the machines received a message reading “cyberattack 64411”.
Most Iranians rely on government subsidies to fuel their vehicles – particularly amid the country’s economic downturn.
In 2019, thousands of people took to the streets across Iran to protest against sudden fuel price rises. Amnesty International estimated that more than 300 people were killed, with thousands more arrested.
The code said to have shown up on machines at petrol stations is associated with a telephone hotline run through the office of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that handles questions about Sharia.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the power cut. However, the use of the number 64411 mirrored an attack in July on Iran’s railway system in which the same number was displayed.
Social media users noted that electronic billboards around the country also displayed messages reading: “Khamenei, where is our fuel?”
Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point later attributed the railway cyber attack to a group of hackers that called themselves Indra, after the Hindu god of war.
Iran has experienced several high-profile cyber attacks in recent months, including one that in August leaked video of abuse of prisoners at Evin jail in Tehran.