Debating Hints of Israel's Hand in Centrifuge-Destroying Worm

The Stuxnet worm was "perfect" for destroying nuclear centrifuges

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The origin of Stuxnet, a powerful Windows-specific computer worm, has yet to be confirmed. This summer, the worm was found causing havoc in Iran and, to a lesser extent, India and Indonesia. It's a particularly destructive piece of malware that can infiltrate large industrial facilities, such as nuclear centrifuges, and disrupt them or even cause them to explode. On Wednesday, The New York Times gave credence to those suspecting Israel of building Stuxnet, noting the "wide smiles" on Israeli officials faces who were asked about the computer worm's origins. The Times also noted that Stuxnet is the "perfect" weapon for sabotaging Iran's centrifuges, which had long aroused criticism in Israel. In the blogosphere, a number of pundits are finding the Times' insinuation credible:

Israel -- the nation to most stridently oppose Tehran's controversial atomic work -- was early on speculated to have created Stuxnet. Jerusalem has not claimed responsibility for the worm. In recent weeks, however, Israeli officials have responded with big grins when questioned if their government had produced Stuxnet, according to the Times. The United States is considered the other leading candidate to have created the worm but indicated Stuxnet was developed outside the country.
  • Iran Calls It an 'Electronic War,' writes Peter Bright at Ars Technica:

The majority of [Stuxnet] infections were found in Iran, which has led the Iranian government to describe the attacks as an "electronic war [...] against Iran." The authors of the worm are still unknown, though the complexity and careful design point at a well-resourced and sophisticated attacker. Though the committe was warned that Stuxnet-like attacks could target many industries, they were also told that the complexity of the malware was such that such attacks may nonetheless remain rare, too difficult for most would-be hackers to pull off.

  • 'Pretty Clever of the Israelis, No?' writes liberal blogger Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Conservative columnist Philip Klein at The American Spectator agrees:
If you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense strategically. The diplomatic and operational difficulties of an Israeli air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities has been well documented. With the whole world speculating about if or when Israel may take military action against Iran, launching small scale sabotage operations with plausible deniability would be a clever way of retarding Iran's nuclear development.
Ralph Langner, a German expert in industrial control systems who has examined the program and who was the first to suggest that the Stuxnet worm may have been aimed at Iran, noted in late September that a file inside the code was named “Myrtus.” That could be read as an allusion to Esther, and he and others speculated it was a reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

The recent reports do not establish beyond doubt that Iran was Stuxnet's intended victim. Converters are used to command a variety of machines such as turbines, saws and lathes, and the worm has turned up in other nations including India and Indonesia.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.