With Stuxnet, U.S.-Israel Partnership Enters New Era Of Cyberwarfare
A highly targeted computer virus, developed jointly by American and Israeli intelligence, may have seriously delayed Iran's nuclear ambitions by disabling its uranium enrichment technology.
Stuxnet, which had been extensively explored by Wired and has now been brought to the fore by New York Times reporting, "eats away at a very specific kind of industrial control system: a configuration of the Siemens-manufactured Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that commands the centrifuges enriching uranium for Iran’s nuclear program, the key step for an Iranian bomb."
The virus was created with some help from German manufacturer Siemens, who agreed to assist after American intelligence discovered that Iran was using Siemens' equipment.
But here's the really clever part: "The Stuxnet worm included one component designed to send Iran's centrifuges spinning out of control and another to record normal operations at the nuclear plant and then play them back so that everything would appear normal while the centrifuges were tearing themselves apart."
Besides the fact that such a specific attack is unprecedented in cyberwarfare, Stuxnet is important because it may have headed off a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.
Analyst Avner Cohen told the Guardian: "In the short term, it surely makes military action less likely. In fact, I do not see any military action against Iran anytime soon. It takes the pressure off. It does not mean military action is off the table, but it is not a short-term concern."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conceded last year that Stuxnet had wreaked havoc on some of the country's centrifuges, but said then the damage had been repaired. The NYT reporting does not make it clear when the claimed damage, said to set Iran back several years, had occurred.
But now U.S. and Israeli officials have loosened their lips just a bit about Stuxnet's success. This may be one of those cases where the public is just finding out about an operation that occurred many months ago.
eWeek reports that Stuxnet affects SCADA systems built by other manufacturers also:
"The latest stable version of KingView, the SCADA software developed by Beijing WellinControl Technology Development, contains a critical heap overflow vulnerability. KingView is used to visualize process data in industrial control systems and has been used throughout Chinese industry, including the aerospace and national defense industries."
Clearly, a monster has been unleashed in Stuxnet. In this case, it appears that America's rivals are feeling its wrath.