Iranian Cyberattack Aimed to Raise Chlorine Level in Israeli Water, Report Says

Hundreds could have become ill, western intelligence official tells Financial Times, as more details trickle in from April attack

Haaretz
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A control room for Israel's civilian water infrastructure.
A control room for Israel's civilian water infrastructure.Credit: Elbit Systems
Haaretz

An Iranian cyberattack in April on Israel's water systems aimed to raise chlorine levels in drinking water, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, quoting an unnamed intellience official from a Western country.

The attack, first reported by Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in early May, had been noticed after water pumps started malfunctioning. According to the report, it had focused "on operational systems and mechanisms for adding chlorine to wells."

According to the Financial Times report, the attack, if successful, could have left tens of thousands without water, including farmers, and, at worst, hundreds of people could have fallenseriously ill.

The Financial Times' Western intelligence source said the attack had been "more sophisticated than they [Israel] initially thought."

“It was close to successful, and it’s not fully clear why it didn’t succeed,” the source added. 

An Iranian source which the Financial Times identified as a regime insider said Tehran was not behind the events. “Iran cannot politically afford to try to poison Israeli civilians," the source said, adding that “our suspicion is that Israelis want more money from the U.S. and made up the whole thing.” 

Israel reportedly responded to the attack by disabling computer systems at a busy Iranian port, heavily backing up maritime traffic. The alleged tit-for-tat was a rare glimpse at the cyber frontline between the two regional rivals.

Both powers commented on the issue, with Iran denying it had been involved in the original attack, but vowing to protect itself – and Israel's military vowing to take the fight to Iran whenever Israelis were attacked.

A child drinks from a public fountain at a park in Be'er Sheva.
A child drinks from a public fountain at a park in Be'er Sheva.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Official comments are often cryptic and sparse, with details of events trickling in from unnamed sources giving information to the media. 

Israel's national cyber chief on Thursday officially acknowledged the country had thwarted a major cyber attack last month against its water systems, calling it a “synchronized and organized attack” aimed at disrupting key national infrastructure.

Yigal Unna did not mention Iran directly, nor did he comment on the alleged Israeli retaliation two weeks later said to have shut down a key Iranian port, but he said recent developments have ushered in a new era of covert warfare, ominously warning that “cyber winter is coming."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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