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Iran accuses malware of wiping systems at oil export centers, creating financial damages

It's pretty obvious at this point that the U.S. selectively targeted Iran's nuclear weapons development efforts with pieces of malware.  The question, amid intense politicization and scrutiny, is exactly what role Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush played in authorizing the attacks.

I. Loading up the Worm Cannon

Some have singled out Obama for his decision to "step up" the attacks, a decision which would lead to the successful destruction of thousands of weapons grade uranium enrichment centrifuges. However, a coding error led to one variant of the worm escaping its targeted deployment area, gaining international infamy in the process.  According to the argument, Bush only authorized limited infections of attack-capable viruses, versus the very large scale authorizations by Present Obama.

But that theory has had a major hole poked in it, thanks to new analysis from Symantec Corp. (SYMC) of Flame, an older worm which infected machines in the Middle East targeting Iran.  Flame, found by Kapersky Labs last month, has code indicating that it predates President Obama, and even predates the family of worms launched late in the Bush era, which would come to be known as Stuxnet.

Flame infographic
Flame has narrowly targeted the Middle East, particularly Iran. [Image Source: Kapersky Labs]

The Bush-era Flame worm was long assumed to be used only for espionage.  But Symantec discovered that it also carried code capable of deleting files and wiping computer systems, wreaking digital havoc in an offensive capacity.

It also appears that President Bush deployed the malware, but never pulled the trigger amid Iranian promises that they would cooperate with talks.  But Iran claims that in April, after it pulled out of talks, the malware attacked computers in its main oil export terminal and Oil Ministry, causing major damage and chaos.

II. Did Bush and Obama Essentially "Declare War" on Iran?

If Symantec is right, it lends serious weight to the Iranian accusations.

And in many ways it lends far more serious accusation to the notion that the U.S. has effectively "declared war" on Iran.  After all, Stuxnet was targeting a select weapon -- nuclear missiles -- whose own real purpose was deadly offense.  By contrast, the U.S. appears to have used Flame to attack the life-blood of the Iranian economy, its oil industry.  That's a far more egregious move.

If these claims are to be validated, there's plenty of blame to be placed on both President Obama and President George W. Bush.  If reports are to be believed, Bush essentially ordered, loaded, and aimed the gun -- Obama pulled the trigger.

The U.S. recently anounced a new policy that cyberattacks could be construed as acts of war.  While the alleged U.S. attacks on Iran have been bloodless, they still seem dangerously close to hypocrisy given that policy, particularly given that there's no indication either President had his efforts authorized by Congress who must approve any war effort.

Iran
Presidents George W. Bush and Obama are accused of setting a chilling precedent, using the Flame worm to target Iran's economy with punitive attacks.  [Vahid Salemi/AP]

The idea that the U.S. used Flame to sabotage civilian/economic infrastructure also raises dark and disturbing possibilities of future attacks, potentially even on the U.S.

Neil Fisher, vice president for global security solutions at Unisys adds, "Many of our utilities have connected their operational management to the Internet to save costs.  Water, gas, electricity certainly constitute the critical national infrastructure.  Dysfunction of those ... systems could have uncomfortable consequences for a large number of people."

Looks like U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle opened up quite the can of worms (in more ways than one) when their highest elected officials allegedly chose to use Flame and Stuxnet to assault Iran.  The consequences of those decisions are unlikely to fade anytime soon.

If the allegations are true, politics aside, it appears both of the last two presidents deserve equal blame or praise for these efforts.

Source: Reuters





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