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Iran says it foiled new cyberattacks by foreign hackers

NEW YORK — Iran reported a spree of new cyberattacks Tuesday, saying foreign enemy hackers tried in recent months to disrupt computer systems at a power plant and other industries in a strategically important southern coastal province as well as a Culture Ministry information center.

Accounts of the attacks in the official media did not specify who was responsible, when they were carried out or how they were thwarted.

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But they strongly suggested that the attacks had originated in the United States and Israel, which have been engaged in a shadowy struggle of computer sabotage with Iran in a broader dispute over whether Iran’s nuclear energy program is for peaceful or military use.

Iran has been on heightened alert against such sabotage since a computer worm known as Stuxnet was used to attack its uranium enrichment centrifuges more than two years ago, which US intelligence officials believe caused many of the machines to spin out of control and self-destruct, slowing the Iranian program’s progress.

Stuxnet and other forms of computer malware have also been used in attacks on Iran’s oil industry and Science Ministry under a covert US effort, first revealed in January 2009, that was meant to subvert Iran’s nuclear program because of suspicions that the Iranians were using it to develop the ability to make atomic bombs.

Iran has repeatedly denied these suspicions.

The latest Iranian sabotage reports raised the possibility that the attacks had been carried out in retaliation for assaults that crippled computers in the Saudi Arabian oil industry and some US financial institutions a few months ago.

US intelligence officials have said they believe that Iranian specialists in cybersabotage were responsible for those assaults, which erased thousands of Saudi files and temporarily prevented some US banking customers from accessing their accounts.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cited those attacks in an Oct. 11 speech in which he warned of the United States’s vulnerability to a coordinated computer warfare attack, calling such a possibility a ‘‘cyber-Pearl Harbor.’’

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