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Computer Worm Stuxnet Hits Nuclear Plant in Iran

Updated on April 12, 2015

Target: The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in Iran

Top industrial control systems experts have now gleaned enough about the Stuxnet worm to classify it as a cyber superweapon.
Top industrial control systems experts have now gleaned enough about the Stuxnet worm to classify it as a cyber superweapon.

Cyber Warfare Launched Against Iran

In today’s Wall Street Journal (September 27, 2010), they indicated Iran acknowledged “… some computers of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant are infected with the Stuxnet worm. The facility’s Project Manager, Mahmoud Jafari told Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency.” The N.Y. Times published a report about the Stuxnet virus which takes an interesting and slightly contrarian view of the power and lethality of the virus. But the most interesting part of the article was a list of other previous cyberattacks that were initiated by governments. Among them, John Markoff notes that Israel’s attack on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor involved disabling that nation’s radar/anti-aircraft defenses. According to the reporter, the IDF’s Unit 8200 devised an ingenious method of shutting the radar off:

Accounts of the event initially indicated that sophisticated jamming technology had been used to blind the radar so Israeli aircraft went unnoticed. Last December, however, a report in an American technical publication, IEEE Spectrum, cited a European industry source as raising the possibility that the Israelis had used a built-in kill switch to shut down the radar .

A former member of the United States intelligence community said that the attack had been the work of Israel’s equivalent of America’s National Security Agency, known as Unit 8200.

Inside Israel, Unit 8200 is famous for its know-how and derring-do. But almost nothing is known or spoken about its operations. This is a very closely held military secret. Which is why Markoff’s report is so interesting.

Israel’s motive to shut down Iranian reactors is strongest and well-documented. The US has discouraged the open bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities even though Israel has already planned for such an eventuality. Therefore, a virus/ worm attack is the most sophisticated option. It’s efficient and far less noisy than a real bombing attack on an enemy’s nuclear facility. (Which Israel has carried out twice before). And there is no ‘collateral damage’ or footprints leading back to the attackers. What’s more Israel has often hinted that it will attack Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations fail.

Ralph Langner is no Middle East policy wonk or former diplomat privy to insider information. He is a German software security engineer with a particular expertise in industrial control system software created by industrial giant Siemens for use in factories, refineries, and power plants worldwide.

This week, Mr. Langner became the first person to detail Stuxnet’s peculiar attack features. He explained, for example, how Stuxnet “fingerprints” each industrial network it infiltrates to determine if it has identified the right system to destroy. Stuxnet was developed to attack just one target in the world, Langner says and other experts confirm.

Stuxnet appears designed to take over centrifuges’ programmable logic controllers. Natanz has thousands of identical centrifuges and identical programmable logic controllers (PLCs), tiny computers for each centrifuge that oversee the centrifuge’s temperature, control valves, operating speed, and flow of cooling water. Stuxnet’s internal design would allow the malware to take over PLCs one after another, in a cookie-cutter fashion.

“It seems like the parts of Stuxnet dealing with PLCs have been designed to work on multiple nodes at once – which makes it fit well with a centrifuge plant like Natanz.

Educated guesses about what Stuxnet, described as the world’s first cyber guided missile, is programmed to destroy include the reactor for Iran’s new Bushehr nuclear power plant, as well as Iran’s nuclear fuel centrifuge plant in Natanz. Both facilities are part of Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iranian officials say is for peaceful purposes but that many other countries, including the United States, suspect are part of an atom-bombmaking apparatus.

An Iranian investrigator found that Stuxnet worm had infected 30,000 machines involved in running industrial control systems. The director of Iran’s Information Technology Council of Industries and Mines Ministry said, “An electronic war has been launched against Iran.”


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    • dallas93444 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      xiaoyu, Thanks. The Yin/Yang of life...represents the ancient Chinese understanding of how things work. Perhaps we just now understand...

    • xiaoyu profile image


      10 years ago

      Like the roses need the rain. Like the poet needs the pain. We can't live without sharing.thanks for your awesome blog.Best regards!

    • dallas93444 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      katiem2, Thanks! Our own "backyard" is at risk...

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      WOW who knew thanks for keeping us informed about such vital world events like the Computer Worm Stuxnet Hits Nuclear Plant in Iran. Were all smarter due to you!

    • dallas93444 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      To save my system:

      The use of "authenticate network and proper encryption format" would not have prevented this! The Stuxnet worm was introduced by USB memory sticks. As one who was in the Joint chief of Staff-Far East and involved in Crypto, there are no "secure codes..." There are degrees of security... We are watching the "big boys" play "dice" with our lives where resources are unlimited...

    • dallas93444 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Nellieanna, I prefer serenity too! However, the possibility exist of a terrorist nuclear attack in the near future... There are no boundaries in an "ideological" war... one fueled with "religious" emotions and fervor...

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      Yeah, it is quite scary and worried. Virus attack on network is big headache now days. However, use authenticate network and proper encryption format decreases the chance of virus attack.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      10 years ago from TEXAS

      WOW! Shudder. What a revealing report. It's something one intuits as a possibility but that it may be a reality in progress, even in that relatively contained area of the globe is really scary and the size of the "battleground" really is immaterial in that kind of a battle, isn't it? The WWW is just that - a world-wide-web. There are no boundaries or limits, really.

      Your assessment of the scope and range of possibilities is indeed eye-opening and hair-raising, Dallas. Thanks for this peek. I'm thankful for a serene view of life. But it's not the majority view so the chaos possible is almost boundless. Yes, I can fathom that.

    • dallas93444 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      LillyGrillzit, It is scary... We are complacent. China could "neutralize" U.S. without firing a shot... The chaos possibility coupled with a flood of mis-information could be created and most of our infrastructure would be disabled with crazy "survivalist" shooting at us... After all said and done, anarchy would prevail and we would be "easy pickings..."

    • dallas93444 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      oktoral, Thanks for stopping by... Knowledge is power.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      10 years ago from Central Oregon

      Awesome and scary. We have become so dependent upon the www, we should always expect the 010101's to slip!

    • oktoral profile image


      10 years ago

      thanks, really useful info


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