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Worms Infect Iranian Nuclear Plant Computers

Sophisticated malware hits Iranian nuclear plant computers, Iran claims no crucial systems affected. Source unknown.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/28/2010, 12:34 AM / Last Update: 9/28/2010, 12:31 AM

Israel National News; Archive

A worm has infected the computers in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor; however none of the crucial control systems in the facility have been affected, Iranian officials claimed Sunday.

"The studies show that few PCs of Bushehr nuclear power plant workers are infected with the virus," said Mahmoud Jafari, the facility's project manager.

The worm that hit the computers is the Stuxnet worm, dubbed by researchers as the most sophisticated malware ever. It is believed to have been created last year and was first detected by a security firm in Belarus in June. Shortly thereafter, Internet security company Symantec noted that Iran was hit the hardest by Stuxnet, with approximately 60% of all infections traced to computers in that country.

Stuxnet is introduced to a computer system via a USB drive (among other attack vectors), and then exploits as many as four different vulnerabilities in various versions of Microsoft Windows to infect Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition control systems (SCADA) made by German company Siemens. These systems control critical infrastructure at facilities such as power plants.  Microsoft has so far patched two of the four vulnerabilities and has promised to fix the remaining flaws at an unspecified future date.

On Saturday, Iran admitted that the worm had infected at least 30,000 computers in the country.

Due to its sophistication, it has been speculated that Stuxnet could only be the product of an organization backed by a nation-state, such as an intelligence agency, but no proof of this has been made public. Speculation focuses on the United States and Israel, with experts saying that Iran's ability to retaliate limited.

In the past, Iranians have found evidence of sabotage of imported equipment such as power supplies to run the centrifuges used to enrich uranium at Natanz. According to a 2009 New York Times report, President George W. Bush had authorrized new efforts, including experimental ones, to undermine electrical systems, computer systems and other networks that serve Iran's nuclear program, a program which has been accelerated since President Obama took office, according to some officials.

According to James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington: “The Israelis, the British and the Americans are the prime suspects, then the French and Germans, and you can't rule out the Russians and the Chinese.”

The Pentagon refused to comment on widespread accusations that it is responsible for the attack on the Bushehr plant. Pentagon Spokesman Col. David Lapan said on Monday that the US Department of Defense can "neither confirm nor deny" reports that it was behind the attack. Israel's Mossad (Secret Service) has made no comment. The truth may never come out.

The Bushehr plant began operations late last month and is supposed to produce electricity from the uranium being supplied by Russia. The Bushehr fuel is enriched to approximately 3.5%, while weapons-grade fuel is enriched to over 90%.

Gary Samore, President Obama’s top adviser on nuclear issues, said at the time that “we think that they have roughly a year dash time,” referring to the minimum amount of time it would take to convert the fuel to weapons-grade uranium. “A year is a very long period of time.”