Following massive anti-government protests in Iran in November, during which demonstrators set fire to banks across the country, the details of 15 million Iranian debit cards were published online, exposing the account information of almost one-fifth of Iran’s population.
“This is the largest financial scam in Iran’s history,” conservative Iranian outlet Aftab News reported. “Millions of Iranians are worried to find their names among the list of hacked accounts.”
The affected banks had been sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 over allegations they transferred money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in violation of international law. The elite security force was labelled a terrorist organization by the U.S. in April.
Iranian information and telecommunications minister Mohammad Jahromi denied the breach was the result of a hack. However, cyber experts told the New York Times the attack was likely carried out by a state or state-sponsored organization.
The attack revealed a “high technological capability, which is usually at the hand of state intelligence services,” said Boaz Dolev, chief executive officer of cybersecurity company ClearSky.
The protests, initially set off by increases in the price of fuel, were the “the worst political crisis the regime has faced in its 40 years,” according to State Department Iran Envoy Brian Hook. Hook also said the regime may have killed up to 1,000 people in response to the protests, although he did not cite evidence for the figure.
Human rights groups have estimated the total number of dead at between 180 to 450. Efforts to verify the number of dead were hampered by the regime’s near-total internet blackout imposed during the protests.
In one incident reported by the Times, members of the IRGC massacred up to 100 protesters in a marsh in the southern city of Mahshahr.