Cyberwarfare, and how it was used against the Iranian nuclear programme


by Sunny
27th November, 2010 at 4:26 am    

Wow. This article on FoxNews (yes, I know, but you have to read it) is something out of a thriller novel.

Basically, it details how intelligence agencies, perhaps more than one, designed a vastly advanced computer worm that was designed solely to disrupt Iran’s nuclear energy programme. Fox calls it ‘Nuclear Weapons’ but of course the Iranian govt can’t build those under the Non-Proliferation Treaty rules (officially).

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.

The whole thing is an excellent read; and actually, I have no problems with this. Sure, it’s illegal, but I prefer knocking out nuclear ambitions with cyber-warfare than real guns. If it lowers the chances of war with Iran – excellent.

The long-term problem of course is that it sets off a cyber arms-race. Not with Iran (with how little the Middle East invests in education, it has no hope of catching up) but China. What happens when China learns and takes over your computer systems? Or what about India? (we can probably wait for a bit there too for the same reasons). We’re heading into uncertain territory, but at least it has its silver lining too.


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15 Comments below   |  

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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : Cyberwarfare, and how it was used against the Iranian nuclear programme http://bit.ly/hKtm7v


  2. Zahir Ahmed

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Cyberwarfare, and how it was used against the Iranian nuclear programme http://bit.ly/hKtm7v


  3. leni lava

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Cyberwarfare, and how it was used against the Iranian nuclear programme http://bit.ly/hKtm7v


  4. takhalus

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : Cyberwarfare, and how it was used against the Iranian nuclear programme http://bit.ly/hKtm7v




  1. AV — on 27th November, 2010 at 5:05 am  

    Sunny has raised a very pertinent point. The efficacy of these worms, trojans, viruses are increasing by the day. So how safe is the computing that we do.

    Is online banking safe enough! Everyone likes James Bond, I am a big fan of his movies, but there is a very thin line that divides James Bond from the Gestapo. So we need to be careful about what we want.

  2. douglas clark — on 27th November, 2010 at 9:23 am  

    AV.

    Point. I have little money, but these people could attack me!

    And I hate paying bank charges…

  3. cjcjc — on 27th November, 2010 at 10:06 am  

    Amazing.

    Better cyber warfare than the normal kind?

  4. Rumbold — on 27th November, 2010 at 10:22 am  

    I enjoyed this piece too. There has been a lot of speculation about this for weeks- the Economist covered it a while back.

  5. Tim Hardy — on 27th November, 2010 at 2:35 pm  

    Hi Sunny

    I agree that this is a thrilling story but I strongly disagree that it is something to be praised or lauded, however noble the end goal.

    This really is nothing like a cruise missile – that breathless Fox News analogy is as flawed as the rhetoric of the precision of smart weapons in recent conflicts has too often turned out to be. This is indiscriminate warfare that effectively turns civilians and the critical infrastructure of civilisation into weapons by turning all computers it infects into electronic Typhoid Marys in order that one will carry the infection to the final target (and with the significant danger that not all of those computers will be immune to the strain of typhoid fever after all).

    The history of software engineering is littered with evidence of the dangers of software errors – google for the Therac-25 radiation therapy machine or Ariane 5 for examples of mistakes that killed people and caused millions of pounds worth of damage. By definition, once you unleash a virus in the wild, you can no longer control it. It is impossible to fully test for side effects on all possible hardware it will infect before release: mistakes will only be discovered when systems other than the targets start shutting down.

    Let’s just hope those are not power plants or air traffic control systems.

  6. Wibble — on 27th November, 2010 at 3:00 pm  

    Well said Tim.

  7. elsaq — on 28th November, 2010 at 3:12 pm  

    ” the Windows 7 operating system that controlled the overall operation of the plant.”

    Let’s just hope the Iranian Government don’t switch to Linux or Mac eh?

  8. joe90 — on 29th November, 2010 at 11:33 pm  

    this fascination with iran is ott, north korea is saying woo hoo over here we have nukes and we are launching missiles for fun!

    but the reaction to the 2 countries by US and its allies is completely different.

  9. Shamit — on 29th November, 2010 at 11:39 pm  

    once again the idiot joe is showing his ignorance.

    The only reason N. Korea was tolerated because the west thought \CHina could control it – now even CHina is thinking that Korean reunification is not a bad thing. Trust me, everyone is worried about the paranoide idiots in Pyongyang –

    And, everyone is taking a hard line against N. Korea and no one in the world wants Iran to have the bomb – and they are right. But as I said you are either too thick or too much of a fanatic and as I said before you are both.

  10. joe90 — on 30th November, 2010 at 12:47 am  

    post #9

    go to sleep the drugs are clearly not working.

    when the countries who have nukes numbering in the thousands destroy them then you have an argument, otherwise your just a hypocrite.

  11. raff — on 1st December, 2010 at 6:08 pm  

    fun read! Though hard to know the truth of any of this. spooky stuff is always so darned cryptic.

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