Bread and Nukes: Stuxnet’s Collateral Damage?

According to a Fox News exclusive, experts think the Stuxnet virus is still wrecking havoc on Iran’s nuclear program, particularly to the centrifuges.

Yet it’s worth considering that even cyber-warfare — like all kinds of warfare — can produce “collateral damage.” The term is a military euphemism, now widely accepted in the lay lexicon, for the unintended harm done by waging war.

Fox News reporter Ed Barnes writes:

The American and European experts say their security websites, which deal with the computer worm known as Stuxnet, continue to be swamped with traffic from Tehran and other places in the Islamic Republic, an indication that the worm continues to infect the computers at Iran’s two nuclear sites.

Yes, but not only nuclear sites are being attacked.

A contact in Iran recently e-mailed to let me know that the Stuxnet virus shut down the operations of a 350-ton capacity multi-purpose milling factory (think wheat flour) near Iran’s Mount Damavand. As the Fox News report seems to indicate, discs with computer security patches had to be mailed in from abroad to get the mills back up.

People aren’t starving — yet. But give sanctions some time, some say. My contact says Iran has more than 350 large-scale mills. Nonetheless, the (likely) government-created virus apparently can’t tell the difference between factories for baking bread and centrifuges for creating nuclear fuel.

Just some food for thought, or thought for food, as it were.

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.



  1. Whatever entity unleashed Stuxnet, might very well have opened a Pandora’s Box. Or created a Frankensteinian monster. Take your pick.
    SEE: “Son of Stuxnet? Variants of the cyberweapon likely, senators told” ~ By Mark Clayton, CSM, 11/17/10
    (excerpt)…The Stuxnet malware, discovered this summer, was apparently designed to strike one target – Iran’s nuclear-fuel centrifuge facilities, researchers now say. But Stuxnet’s “digital warhead,” they caution, could be copied and altered by others to wreak havoc on a much grander scale.
    Variants of Stuxnet could target a host of critical infrastructure, from the power grid and water supplies to transportation systems, four cybersecurity experts told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
    “The concern for the future of Stuxnet is that the underlying code could be adapted to target a broader range of control systems in any number of critical infrastructure sectors,” said Sean McGurk, acting director of the National Cyber-security and Communications Integration Center at the US Department of Homeland Security.
    Stuxnet infiltrated and targeted an industrial control system software that is widely used in US infrastructure and industry, meaning the nation is vulnerable to future Stuxnet-like attacks, he said…

  2. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist but does anyone really believe that stuxnet was ONLY supposed to target nuke facilities?

  3. Based on the analysis of the two known stuxnet payloads, neither seems well suited to knocking out a mill, flour or ore. Is it possible that enriched flour in Iran is produced using cascades of small but very high speed mills? Possibly there are other payloads at work that have yet to be analyzed.

  4. Jahel’s point jibes with my readings that claim Stuxnet targets the centrifuges, the thousands of centrifuges that refine the uranium to 95% purity. I can’t imagine many alternative uses for this complex system.

  5. Scott please tell us why you believe that Iran has any uranium enriched to 95% and we will all laugh if you cite DEBKA

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