Sunday, January 16, 2011

NYTimes reveals sophisticated worm attack on Iran and credits President Bush with Stuxnet origins

Israel Tests Called Crucial in Nuke Delay -William Broad, John Markoff & David E. Sanger

Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say [Israel's] Dimona [facility] tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.

Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer program, much less describe any role in designing it. 

But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”

The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy.

[T]he worm only kicked into gear when it detected the presence of a specific configuration of controllers, running a set of processes that appear to exist only in a centrifuge plant. “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit,” he said. “It was a marksman’s job.”
[New York Times] 

Israel Has Already Struck -Yossi Melman

The intelligence operation achieved a significant delay in Iran's nuclear program without any casualties.

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