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‘Stuxnet’: Declaring cyberwarfare on Iran

Iran admits that 30,000 of its computers have already been infected with Stuxnet malware, including some at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Is the U.S. “already at war with Iran?” asked Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation. For several years now, there have been reports that the government has been trying to sabotage Iran’s nuclear industry. That secret war may have just become visible, in the form of a diabolical new computer “worm” called Stuxnet. Cybersecurity experts say Stuxnet is the most sophisticated, and potentially devastating, bit of “malware” ever devised, with the ability to spread quickly, take control of industrial computers, and reprogram them to destroy hardware. Experts say the worm could only have been created with the resources and expertise of a nation-state. Its ultimate target? That remains uncertain, although Iran admits that 30,000 of its computers have already been infected, including some at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, whose start-up has been delayed. Stuxnet may also be impairing Iran’s computer-controlled uranium centrifuges, which mysteriously have lost 30 percent of production capacity, thereby setting back any plans to make a bomb. “Make no mistake: This is serious stuff.”

Stuxnet, in fact, is the first true cyberweapon, said Mark Clayton in The Christian Science Monitor. Security experts say the complex worm is designed to “cross from the digital realm to the physical world—to destroy something.” Ralph Langer, a German researcher who has studied Stuxnet intensively, says the worm is programmed to attack one specific factory, power plant, or other industrial installation somewhere in the world, and that once it reaches its target, it will send a code: “DEADF007.” Then something bad happens. “Something big,” Langer says. Who sent it? It could be the U.S.—or Israel, which is also developing cyberwarfare capability.

Whatever the source or the outcome, Stuxnet ushers in a frightening new era, said Jed Babbin in Forbes.com. China, Russia, the U.S., and other nations have been quietly engaging in cyberwarfare for some time now, but this worm represents a major technological escalation—like the change from the “muzzle-loading muskets” of the 18th and 19th centuries to modern rifles. “This is what nation-states build if their only other option would be to go to war,” one security expert said. Iran may be the target this time, but let’s not gloat. In the future, a foreign worm could shut down or destroy America’s electrical utilities and its industrial and nuclear facilities. Welcome to the brave new cyberworld.

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