Stuxnet Stalling Iran Nukes?

Yahoo News is reporting that Iran has had years of problems with the nuclear equipment that is used to enrich its uranium, and that the Stuxnet virus may be one reason why.

Sixty percent of the computers affected by the virus are in Iran. That may sound to American ears like a good review of Stuxnet, a computer worm that attacks Seimens industrial control systems and that may well have been launched against Iran by a foreign government in order to foil its nukes program (anyone want to handicap the odds that it was Israel)? If Stuxnet manages to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, I suppose that is a good thing.

However, the existence of this particular worm is highly worrisome, as my former Washington Post Newsweek Interactive colleague Robert MacMillan has written:

The software operates in two stages following infection, according to Symantec Security Response Supervisor Liam O’Murchu. First it uploads configuration information about the Siemens system to a command-and-control server. Then the attackers are able to pick a target and actually reprogram the way it works. …

If the worm were to be used to mess up systems at a chemical or power plant, the results could be devastating.

“We’ve definitely never seen anything like this before,” O’Murchu said. “The fact that it can control the way physical machines work is quite disturbing.”

Russian digital security company Kaspersky Labs has described Stuxnet as “a working and fearsome prototype of a cyber-weapon that will lead to the creation of a new arms race in the world.”

We may be viewing this topic one day through the lens of “unintended consequences.”

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