BBC fears Iranian cyber-attack over its Persian TV service

Corporation suspects Iran government made sustained 2 March attack on its London HQ after spike in Persian TV audience

The BBC fears it suffered a lengthy cyber-attack by activists in Iran just 48 hours after it revealed a huge spike in audience for its Persian TV service.

The corporation’s headquarters in London were the target of a sustained online attack on 2 March, in a widening of earlier assaults on the BBC by suspected government forces in Iran.

The latest attack – which disrupted email access within some parts of the BBC for about four hours – came two days after the BBC hailed the success of its Farsi-language service that has come under fire from Tehran authorities.

Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, will refer to a “sustained attack” by Iranian authorities on its Persian TV service in a speech in London on Wednesday. He will say the corporation recently suffered attempts to jam BBC Persian phone lines in London and a “sophisticated cyber-attack” on its systems.

“It is difficult, and may prove impossible, to confirm the source of these attacks, though attempted jamming of BBC services into Iran is nothing new and we regard the coincidence of these different attacks as self-evidently suspicious,” Thompson is expected to add.

Although Thompson’s remarks had been trailed this morning, further details have only just begun to emerge. It is understood that the BBC suffered a suspected “distributed denial of service” attack, where online systems are overwhelmed by repeated requests to load information, at its London headquarters on 2 March.

The attack did not affect the BBC’s on-air output. It is understood that problems with the corporation’s internal communications systems continued into the following week.

The sophisticated cyber-attack is suspected of being the latest attempt by Iranian authorities to threaten BBC Persian TV, which the corporation nevertheless believes is watched by one in 10 Iranian citizens each week. The Farsi-language channel has been regularly jammed since it launched in 2009, and several BBC journalists have been detained or intimidated in Iran in the past 12 months.

It is suspected that the latest attack was prompted by new figures showing that its Persian TV audience has almost doubled its audience in two years, to 6 million people. A BBC spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on the specifics of events because of an ongoing investigation.”

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from Josh Halliday


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