Was Stuxnet an Israeli Attack on Iran?

Referred to as a ‘worm,’ Stuxnet is malware, or a computer virus, which was discovered in June 2010 by a Belarus security firm, though it was likely unleashed the previous June. Its purpose is to disrupt industrial processes and infrastructure, and the worm’s sophistication and targeting have many speculating that it was created by Israeli intelligence to delay Iran’s nuclear development.

The worm operates by infecting SCADA systems (that monitor and control industrial processes), reprogramming critical systemic elements and hiding these changes. It exploits no fewer than four Microsoft software vulnerabilities (way more than the standard one, if any) and is originally transferred by means of a USB memory stick/flash drive. Half a megabyte in size and written in more than one programming language, the worm is unusually large and sophisticated.

Various computer experts and analysts who have studied the worm intensely since it was detected four months ago have commented on Stuxnet’s unmatched sophistication, agreeing that the team behind it likely had the financial backing and support of a very technically advanced nation state. The first known worm designed to attack real-world infrastructure (think power stations, water plants, industrial units), the malware has been called out and out “scary.” Technical journals like PC World, Computerworld and CNET all seem to be in agreement that this is not the work of private computer geeks or rogue hackers. One expert told Wired magazine, that the code for Stuxnet would have literally taken many months if not years to write.

So why the leap from technically advanced nation state to Israel v. Iran? First, the majority of the computers affected by the worm, and the only servers known to have been severely damaged by it, are located in Iran. Iran happens to be the site of some extremely controversial, i.e. nuclear, industrial processes. Although Iran claims that its nuclear development is for civil purposes only, Iran’s President, Ahmadinejad, isn’t exactly shy about his beliefs that the Holocaust didn’t occur and that Israel should not exist. Israel, on the other hand, has the perfect mix of technical advancement, intelligence expertise and justified apprehension to want to throw a major spanner in Iran’s steadily progressing nuclear works.

According to Debkafile, US and UN nuclear watchdogs have reported since August a slowdown in Iranian nuclear enrichment due to technical difficulties. Apparently at the centrifuge facility in Natanz alone, three thousand centrifuges are out of commission. Natanz, in addition to the Bushehr nuclear plant, are both on the list of speculated Stuxnet targets.

There is no hard evidence to date regarding the origin and specific industrial target of Stuxnet. In addition to infecting Iranian computers, it seems to have wormed its way into German, Indian and Indonesian computers as well. Then again, if the Israel v. Iran speculations are true, a few false leads are to be expected…

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