Iranian cyberattack aimed to poison Israelis with chlorine in water

Iranian hackers tried to increase the amount of chlorine in Israeli water during the Islamic Republic’s cyber-attack on Israel’s central water pumping station, the Financial Times newspaper reported Monday.

A western intelligence official revealed new details regarding the Iranian cyberattack against Israeli water facilities. According to the source, the goal of the attack that took place last month was to “trick the computers into increasing the amount of chlorine added to the treated water that flows to Israeli homes.”

The Iranian cyberattack on the water plant could have triggered fail-safes that would have left tens of thousands of civilians and farms parched in the middle of a heatwave, as the pumping station shut down when the excess chemical was detected. In the worst-case scenario, hundreds of people would have been at risk of becoming ill.

“It was more sophisticated than they (Israel) initially thought,” an official told the FT. “It was close to successful, and it’s not fully clear why it didn’t succeed.”

Israel retaliated last month by carrying out a small, but sophisticated attack on the Shahid Rajaee Port under orders from Naftali Bennett, then acting defense minister. “It was small, very small — like a knock on the door,” said one official. “Think of it (as) a gentle reminder. ‘We know where you live.’”

The port was “roughly in the middle of the list of options” presented to Bennett after he demanded a list of potential targets for a response, an Israeli official told the FT. “Any disruption would be economic, nobody’s safety would be placed at risk, they would be reminded we are here, we are watching,” the official added.

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

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