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Obama's Cyber-War on Iran

Who needs bombs when you have insidious computer "worms" to knock out Iran's nuclear facilities?

The NYT reports on the unintended leak of U.S. efforts to attack Iran's nuclear capability with a cyber-"worm", and the President's order to escalate:

Ahmadinejad“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.

Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.

This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.

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  1. Not really sure why the Iranians need to have a modem hooked up to their spinning centrifuges, thus risking a computer virus. Something's odd about all of this; I mean, they're smart enough to process uranium, but can't keep the computers offline to prevent this sort of thing? Durrrrr.

    Posted by: Drew | Jun 1, 2012 10:19:33 AM

  2. They have to communicate with other scientists, domestic and foreign. Any nuclear facility would require Web access when doing illicit things.

    Not to mention, a lot of their scientists have been killed recently. Going against the US, Israel, and EU when lots of your population wants to revolt isn't the wisest strategy. It's easy to find spies.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jun 1, 2012 10:29:54 AM

  3. Actually, there's a series of paragraphs dedicated to the fact that they used social engineering and plain stupidity to get the information in and out of Natanz.

    Leave a thumb drive sitting on a table and someone is going to pick it up. That thumb drive is then going to get stuck into a lot of computers.

    Basically, the early parts of the plan involved laying thumb drives in the path of Iranian maintenance workers/scientists/support staff and waiting for one to get stuck into a computer in Natanz.

    To get the data out, Stuxnet would infect laptops that were connected to the core for maintenance, upload all of its information to the laptops, then wait for the unsuspecting maintenance worker to take it home or to a coffee shop and then upload it all back to the NSA.

    While the code is complex, it was a stunningly simple plan.

    Posted by: Brad | Jun 1, 2012 11:25:48 AM

  4. By maintenance workers, I assume that you mean IT support. Standard maintenance workers wouldn't have access to the drives or laptops. And if IT workers were so dumb that they put random found drives in their laptops, they were getting money to do so with the potential denial of culpability.

    Also, those drives can't walk. Someone took them inside. There were obviously spies involved.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jun 1, 2012 11:36:54 AM

  5. Someday, probably not that far into the future, someone's gonna dump a bit of cyberwarfare on America, and we're gonna be outraged, I tell you, outraaaaaaaged...

    Posted by: BobN | Jun 1, 2012 11:42:11 AM

  6. Only four countries had the technical know-how to develop the Flame virus: "Israel, the U.S., China and Russia."
    Since the virus was obviously intended for Iran, we can eliminate its friends China and Russia.
    This leaves only Israel and us.
    Having thoroughly demonized Iran, anything we do to it has become fair game.
    But there is nothing fair or right about taking another country's data. Certainly we would not want China or Russia taking our data and spreading it to 80 separate servers.
    As a leader of the world community aspiring for governance through universal fairness, we can no longer afford to follow the beaten path of expediency chosen by Israel. Doing so will not only deprive us of our moral authority, but will also squander our unique opportunity to fashion a more just and fair world.

    Posted by: kafantaris | Jun 1, 2012 11:26:51 PM

  7. Didn't I already see this story on 60 Minutes months ago?

    Posted by: aneas t. | Jun 2, 2012 2:23:13 PM

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