The greatest cyberweapon in history

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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The Stuxnet worm, a piece of computer malware that may have seriously delayed the building of an Iranian nuclear weapon, appears to have been created through a joint effort by the United States and Israel, according to The New York Times.

Stuxnet caused Iran’s centrifuges to spin wildly out of control while simultaneously making it appear that nothing was wrong. The worm was possibly tested at Israel’s Dimona complex, the birthplace of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear deterrent, before going on to destroy approximately a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit,” German computer security expert Ralph Langner told the Times. “It was a marksman’s job.”

According to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the worm has only caused “minor problems with some of (Iran’s) centrifuges.” International experts like Langner beg to differ. “Code analysis makes it clear that Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept,” he wrote. “It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.”

Both the United States and Israel have reportedly studied Iran’s uranium enrichment laboratories in an effort to exploit critical flaws within Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran uses the P-1 centrifuge, built by Pakistan and based on blueprints stolen from Dutch scientists in the 1970s. The man who originally stole the blueprints, a Pakistani metallurgist named A.Q. Khan, illegally sold P-1 machines to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. At some point, Israel seems to have procured an unknown number of P-1 centrifuges and began testing them at the remote Dimona facility. In 2003, Libya surrendered its P-1 machines to the United States, which began working with the centrifuges and looking for weaknesses. The Stuxnet virus appears to be the result of these American and Israeli efforts to study the P-1.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” an American expert on nuclear intelligence told the Times. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

Israeli intelligence has often warned that Iran was on the verge of building a bomb. Now, according recently retired Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan, Iran may not be able to build a bomb until 2015. It seems the delay is largely attributable to the devastating Stuxnet worm.

Although neither the United States nor Israel have taken credit for Stuxnet, some officials have publicly rejoiced at the news. Gary Samore, President Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, told a conference on the Iranian nuclear program that he is “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.”

Will Rahn