Western Cyber Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facility?

A computer virus that appears aimed at Iranian nuclear facilities and other Iranian industrial installations is making headlines around the globe as the malware leaps borders and cybersystems. Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation‘s excellent progressive national security blogger, rounds up some reports in a post on the subject.

He speculates while President George W. Bush’s covert war against Iran was much discussed, the United States could be waging a similar effort under the radar screen. If this cyber-attack is a potential piece of that puzzle — it might working: the Iranians have been known to have technical problems at their centrifuge plants and have admitted the Bushehr reactor is under attack.

Dreyfuss writes:

Now, it appears, there is a serious computer worm affecting Ian’s nuclear industry, along with other Iranian industrial facilities. Called Stuxnet, the worm appears to be a case of outright industrial sabotage or cyber warfare, created and unleashed not by rogue hackers but by a state. According to the Seattle Times, the time stamp on the Stuxnet virus reveals that it was created in January 2010, meaning that if the United States is behind it, it’s Obama’s doing, not Bush’s.

If so, and if the United States is behind it, then Obama is already at war with Iran. Cyber warfare is no less war than bombs and paratroopers. Besides the United States, of course, Israel is high on the list of countries with both motive and capability. Iran’s PressTV, a government-owned news outlet, quotes various Western technology and cybersecurity experts saying that either the United States or Israel is behind Stuxnet.

The Times reports that Stuxnet is highly specific, aimed “solely at equipment made by Siemens that controls oil pipelines, electric utilities, nuclear facilities, and other large industrial sites.”

Kevin Hogan, the Senior Director of Security Response at Symantec, a virus-protection software company, told Reuters’ William Maclean that:

We cannot rule out the possibility (of a state being behind it). Largely based on the resources, organization and in-depth knowledge across several fields – including specific knowledge of installations in Iran – it would have to be a state or a non-state actor with access to those kinds of (state) systems.

With sixty percent of the world’s infected computers in Iran, there’s little question that someone – or some nation – with great resources directed this attack against Iranian facilities. It remains to be seen just who.

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Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.

8 Comments

  1. You don’t need to be a technical expert to realize what’s going on is cyberwarfare against Iran. It’s the cheapest and best way to hit the nuclear program. Moreover, no one gets killed, there’s no blood-soaked scenes on TV — it’s perfect in that it won’t send Muslims or Western leftists into apocalyptic fits.

    There’s never going to be enough “evidence” to pin it on anybody — that’s the beauty of the thing. But no question it’s a deliberate, ongoing operation emanating from Israel and perhaps Maryland as well.

  2. Pretty sure it’s the Israelis, with US help perhaps. Certainly better than sending in the F-15s.

  3. This article here disputes your 60% estimate for the percent of infected computers in Iran. Since much of the reporting on this issue has been by foreign policy writers, not technical experts, I remain skeptical that we have enough evidence to blame Israel or the US, or even determine if Iran was the intended target.

    What say you?

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