iran: Hackers breach Iran’s atomic energy agency, protests persist

Iran’s atomic energy agency alleged on Sunday that hackers acting on behalf of an unidentified foreign country broke into a subsidiary’s network and had free access to its email system.

An anonymous hacking group claimed responsibility for the attack on Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, demanding Tehran release political prisoners arrested in the recent nationwide protests. The group said it leaked 50 gigabytes of internal emails, contracts and construction plans related to Iran’s Russian-backed nuclear power plant in Bushehr. It was unclear whether the breached system contained classified material.

The hack comes as Iran continues to face nationwide unrest first sparked by the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman in police custody for allegedly not adhering to the country’s strict Islamic dress code. On Sunday, Iran’s leading teachers’ association reported that sit-ins canceled classes at multiple schools across the country in protest over the government’s crackdown on student protesters.

The protests first focused on Iran’s state-mandated hijab, or headscarf, for women but soon grew into one of the most serious challenges to the country’s ruling clerics. Protesters have clashed with police and even called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. Security forces have fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrations, killing over 200 people, according to estimates by rights groups.

Iran’s civil nuclear arm said hackers breached the email system used by the company that runs the country’s sole nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. The agency blamed a “foreign country” for the attack, without elaborating. Iran has previously accused the United States and Israel for cyberattacks that have impaired the country’s infrastructure.

“These illegal efforts are done out of desperation is for attracting public attention,” the organization said.

An anonymous hacking group, calling itself “Black Reward,” published what appeared to be images of contracts, plans and equipment at the Bushehr plant, which went online over a decade ago with help from Russia.

“Unlike Westerners, we do not flirt with criminal mullahs,” the group wrote, announcing the hack on its Telegram channel.

Meanwhile The Coordination Council for Teachers Union, Iran’s leading teachers’ association that has been vocal in the protests, reported that schools, largely in Iran’s Kurdish provinces, heeded its call to boycott classes Sunday in protest over the deaths and detentions of students in the past month of unrest. There was no immediate acknowledgement of the strikes from authorities.

The union shared photos of teachers holding up protest signs saying “Woman, Life, Freedom” and other slogans instead of teaching at schools in the Kurdish cities of Sanandaj, Marivan, Kermanshah and Saqez, as well as in the West Azerbaijan and mountainous Hamadan provinces.

“Schools have become barracks and tear gas is thrown in the faces of elementary school students,” one teacher wrote in a letter shared by the union. “History will record the name of this brave generation.”

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