Stuxnet: The Insidious Cyberweapon Used Against Iran
Stuxnet: The Insidious Cyberweapon Used Against Iran - 2009 marked the year when a completely new form of warfare confirmed its arrival on the world stage. Beginning in the summer of 2009, the first version of a computer worm that was later dubbed ‘Stuxnet’ began spreading through the information networks associated with the Iranian nuclear program. Stuxnet targeted the thousands of centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, with these centrifuges spinning at rapid speeds in order to detach isotopes in uranium gas. It is estimated that one version of the Stuxnet attack destroyed 1,000 out of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had in operation at the time.
Because the Natanz nuclear facility was air-gapped from the internet as a security protection, a difficulty for the attackers was finding a way to get the worm into the computer systems of Natanz. The precise details regarding how Stuxnet was delivered are still somewhat unknown, with two possible, potentially complimentary operations responsible. Firstly, the attackers may have relied on engineers and others who had physical access to the plant. It has been reported that an Iranian engineer recruited by Dutch intelligence on behalf of the CIA and the Mossad potentially planted Stuxnet into the nuclear facilities system. Secondly, the use of cyberattacks against companies believed to be connected to the nuclear facility may have introduced the worm into Natanz, as Stuxnet was primarily spread through infected USB sticks.
The Stuxnet cyberattack was part of a larger cyberwarfare program codenamed Operation Olympic Games, which stretched back to the George W. Bush administration. Although the creators of Stuxnet have not officially taken responsibility for its creation, it is widely believed to be the work of American and Israeli intelligence. The cyberoperation came to an end in the summer of 2010 however, when an error in the code – which arguably came from an modification added by Israeli agents - led to the worm spreading around the internet. The actual success of the Stuxnet operation is still somewhat debated. Yet from a historical perspective, Stuxnet stands out not because of its debated effectiveness, but because it was the first confirmed attack in the new realm of cyberwarfare.
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