News Middle East

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Western power created virus to destroy Iran's nuclear system

Christopher Williams in New York

The Stuxnet computer virus, which was created to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme, was built jointly by at least one Western power and the Israeli secret service, it was claimed yesterday.

Tom Parker, a US-based security researcher who specialised in tracing cyber attacks, spent months analysing the Stuxnet code and found evidence that the virus was created by two separate organisations. His evidence supported the claims of intelligence sources that it was a joint, two-step operation.

"It was most likely developed by a Western power, and they most likely provided it to a secondary power, which completed the effort," he said.

The malicious software, which was first detected in June last year, was almost certainly designed to make damaging, surreptitious adjustments to the centrifuges used at Natanz, Iran's uranium enrichment site.

While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, played down its impact, he confirmed that the country's nuclear ambitions had suffered serious setbacks.

Separate investigations by US experts discovered that Stuxnet worked by increasing the speed of uranium centrifuges to breaking point for short periods. At the same time the virus shut off safety monitoring systems, deceiving operators into thinking that all was normal.

Effective

Mr Parker said this part of the attack must have been conceived by "some very talented individuals", and the other by a less talented, or more rushed, group of developers.

The element written by the first group, which was activated after Stuxnet reached its target and was known as the "payload", was complex, well-designed and effective, according to Mr Parker's analysis. He believed that this was evidence of the involvement of a major Western power because it had both the expertise and access to the nuclear equipment necessary to test the virus.

In contrast, the way Stuxnet was distributed and its "command and control" features, which allowed it to be remotely altered, included many errors and were poorly protected from surveillance.

"It's a bit like spending billions on a space shuttle and then launching it using the remote control from a £15 toy car," said Mr Parker.

His criticisms of Stuxnet's distribution mechanism were supported by other experts, including Nate Lawson, a computer encryption consultant.

"Either the authors did not care if the payload was discovered, they weren't aware of these techniques or they had other limitations, such as time," he said.

Ensuring the virus reached Natanz would have required secret co-operation inside the Iranian nuclear programme, a field of state espionage in which Israel's Mossad agency was acknowledged as unrivalled.

Iran was under pressure yesterday to hold a bilateral meeting with the United States on the first day of talks in Istanbul between the six world powers over its disputed nuclear programme, a Western official said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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