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Source code could be adapted to break factories, power grids, the sewage system, and other critical utilities

For as much as the U.S. is maligned for being oft victimized by internet aggressors -- some of whom are mere high school age children -- the nation is believed to have conducted one very audacious and surprising effective (to an extent) cyber black ops in history.

I. StuxNet -- The U.S.'s Most Danger Cyber "Black Op"

In June 2010, security experts found a new type of worm -- the phrase commonly used to refer to a self-spreading malicious computer program.  They dubbed it "Stuxnet".

But unlike most worms, which try to accumulate a stockpile of infected machines for spamming, Bitcoin mining, or distributed denial of service purposes, Stuxnet was disinterested in doing anything malicious to most of the machines it was infecting.  Rather, it just wanted to spread, inching towards its true target -- Iran.

In fact, it was aimed at a very specific target in Iran -- the nation's secretive nuclear refining facilities.  And after infecting over 60,000 personal computers in Iran, it reached the facilities.

Iran nuclear facilities
The U.S. and Israeli reportedly used a computer virus to sabotage Iran's growing nuclear program -- a halfway successful effort that did wreak some havoc at Iran's processing facilities. [Image Source: CBS]

In the summer of 2010 it spun hundreds of centrifuges -- produced by German electronics giant Siemens -- to their breaking points.  It was a major setback for Iran's nuclear program.  Unsurprisingly Iran -- which insists that its nuclear program was intended for peaceful and not weapons-making purposes -- was quick to lash out at "Western spies" for the sabotage effort.

But details that have emerged since have proved that their is likely truth in those claims, as evidence points to the U.S. and Israeli jointly developing the malware, possibly with other allies.

II. Mission Success?  Or a Darker Reality?

Stuxnet seemed a very effective attack -- even if the eventual implication of U.S. and Israeli involvement was a public relation setback for the alleged authors.  But ultimately, it did not succeed in permanently destroying Iran's nuclear program.  Today the U.S. believes that Iran not only has nuclear power -- it is thought to be close to possessing one or more nuclear weapons.

Computer worm
The attack failed to stop Iran's nuclear efforts.  Worse yet, researchers fear the worm's source could be turned against its authors. [Image Source: TechTear]

And Iran -- the greatest tech power in the Middle East outside of Israel -- showed itself to be growing increasingly sophisticated in digital efforts, downing a U.S. unmanned drone in a recent high-profile embarrassment.  (President Obama requested the drone be returned, Iran mocked him by sending toy replicas.)

And aside from not truly achieving its intended long-term effect, the decision to release Stuxnet may have much more dire consequences.  The source code for the worm has recently been decompiled and is floating around on hacker sites, according to a new 60 Minutes report by CBS Corp. (CBS).

III. War 2.0: U.S. May See Its Own Source Code Turned Against it

In its primetime special, CBS reporters argue that releasing the worm may have been akin to Pandora of Greek mythology opening a box that let loose chaos and destruction into her world.  The report states that various groups ranging from independent malicious hackers to white hat security researchers to foreign intelligence agencies are all racing to adapt the highly virulent, highly successful worm for use in new attacks.

Such attacks could destroy machinery at sewage plants, electrical grid locations, traffic signals, or other applications.  Such critical infrastructure often is air-gapped, but is sensitive to connections during routine maintenance.  As the air-gapping (not having a physical internet connection to the outside world) gives a traditional sense of security, these types of devices may have less robust security mechanisms, and hence be more vulnerable to mechanical or electrical overdriving.

Only time will tell whether a Stuxnet variant will come back to bite the U.S.  But given the success of AnonymousLulzSec, and other hacker collectives in openly defying and attacking the U.S. government digitally, it's not infeasible to imagine such groups looking to cripple vital U.S. infrastructure in the near future.  Or alternatively, hostile nations like Iran or North Korea could return fire, using the U.S. and Israel's own code against them.

Sources: CBS [1], [2]

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RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Wulf145 on 3/6/2012 7:39:32 AM , Rating: 3
The right to keep nuclear weapons out of crazy people's hands who have a history of terrorizing and threatening their neighbors?

The last time Persia (nowadays Iran) terrorized or was agressive against a Neigbour was in the 18th Century.

Since then it was always Iran that has been attacked.

I'll jump on the 'Lets-Bomb-Iran' bandwagon as soon as there is proof that they aktulay have a Military Nuclear Program, as of today the IAEO has stated that all nuclear material is present and accounted for. Heck, even the CIA is saying that they don't believe that they have a Military Nuclear Program.

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Ringold on 3/6/2012 10:48:22 AM , Rating: 2
Yep. I mean, peaceful countries always bury their facilities deep inside mountains like at Fordow, right? It probably helps keep down on air-conditioning costs! That must be it.

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Wulf145 on 3/6/2012 11:38:57 AM , Rating: 2
Ad peaceful country - Can you give me an example of Persia/Iran having been the aggressor in a military conflict since 1900? Or, how do you define a peaceful country?

I would accept your argument if all, or even most, facilities were deep underground – they are not. As far as I am concerned when designing a facility to house and process nuclear materials having it underground could be construed as being safety conscious, if something goes wrong the radioactive materials are already contained.

By Ringold on 3/6/2012 4:11:31 PM , Rating: 2
If safety were the only concern, then the rock itself would be enough. Why the several meters of concrete and rebar? The only possible thing that is needed to protect against is repeated assault by bunker-busting missiles.

And you're right, suspected locations where work on triggers and neutron reflectors are above ground, but the centrifuges are all being moved to Fordow.

And if their intent is peaceful, why not let inspectors in at Fordow with free reign? Indeed, why was Fordow until just recently a secret? How many other peaceful but secret facilities do they have?

By ZorkZork on 3/6/2012 4:36:01 PM , Rating: 2
Talk to the people in Israel who have to live with attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah and Hamas are Iran's proxy warriors. While the people of Iran may be peaceful (like most people) their government isn't.

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Ringold on 3/6/2012 10:55:11 AM , Rating: 2
And I guess funding terrorism doesn't count as aggression in your world?

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Wulf145 on 3/6/12, Rating: 0
By Ringold on 3/6/2012 4:15:21 PM , Rating: 2
Turkey has proxy terrorist groups? The UAE does? Qatar? Kuwait? The new Iraq?

And Iran looks "wimpy" on the terrorism front? Did you miss the part where they sent tons of missiles to Hezbollah to rain down on Israeli cities, forcing Israel to develop tech like the Iron Dome?

And since when did crazies start suggesting ANY state-sponsored terrorism is acceptable? How can you possibly defend that?

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By derricker on 3/7/2012 8:20:39 PM , Rating: 2
You sure you are not talking about US?? I mean, it's history of seeding terror across the globe is unmatched. It even dropped a nuclear bomb on an already defeated country which had already made clear it's intentions of surrendering.

Your double moral standard truly is disgusting.

By Steve1981 on 3/7/2012 9:02:53 PM , Rating: 2
It even dropped a nuclear bomb on an already defeated country which had already made clear it's intentions of surrendering.

Sorry, but they didn't have any intention of surrendering, at least not on terms the Allies were willing to accept.

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Reclaimer77 on 3/6/2012 7:34:16 PM , Rating: 1
The last time Persia (nowadays Iran) terrorized or was agressive against a Neigbour was in the 18th Century.

Umm this is 100% absolutely false. Are you serious? So the Arab-Israeli war, where Iran and 3 other countries attacked Israel in 1948 was in the 18th Century? What about Israel being attacked in 1973 on a Jewish holiday? Since then there's been never ending aggression. Both sides have their reasons, but let's be clear, if you support Iran in this conflict you're clearly on the side of bigots and racists. Israel's only crime is being a home for Jews.

Please purge your mind of whatever bullcrap you picked up in public school or MSNBC and educate yourself on this:

" Before the adoption by the United Nations of Resolution 181 in November 1947 and the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948, several Arab countries adopted discriminatory measures against their local Jewish populations. The status of Jewish citizens in Arab states worsened dramatically during the 1948 Israeli-Arab conflict. Major anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab World in December 1947, and Jewish communities were hit particularly hard in Syria and Aden, with hundreds of dead and injured "

" Over 700,000 Jews emigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1952, with approximately 285,000 of them from Arab countries. "

" On October 6, 1973, Syria and Egypt staged a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The Israeli military were caught off guard and unprepared, and took about three days to fully mobilize.[49][50] The Yom Kippur War accommodated indirect confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union. When Israel had turned the tide of war, the USSR threatened military intervention. The United States, wary of nuclear war, secured a ceasefire on October 25 "

Israel has quite literally been fighting for their survival, outnumbered, against multiple foes in a decades long struggle! Their very way of life, and the only Jewish population in the Middle East, is constantly being threatened. I don't know where you people get this idea that they are the aggressors in this. Can you not tell right from wrong?

Since then it was always Iran that has been attacked.

Proved false. And I only touched the tip of the iceberg. It took a whole 2 minutes to disprove this claim. It seems like you just blurted stuff out without knowing the facts. This is called ignorance.

I'll jump on the 'Lets-Bomb-Iran' bandwagon

Where have I suggested anything of the sort in this discussion? I'm NOT talking about that.

By Steve1981 on 3/7/2012 8:12:44 AM , Rating: 2
So the Arab-Israeli war, where Iran and 3 other countries attacked Israel in 1948...What about Israel being attacked in 1973 on a Jewish holiday?

I'm not aware of any significant Iranian involvement in either incident. In fact, in the entire article on the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the only mention of Iran is this:

The British Mandate over Palestine was due to expire on 15 May, but Jewish leadership led by Ben-Gurion declared independence on 14 May (because 15 May was a Shabbat). The State of Israel declared itself as an independent nation, and was quickly recognized by the United States, Iran, the Soviet Union, and many other countries.

For the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the only mention is:

The Egyptian Navy managed to enforce a blockade at Bab-el-Mandeb. Eighteen million tons of oil had been transported yearly from Iran to Israel through the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb.


According to Admiral Ze'ev Almog, the Israeli Navy escorted tankers from the Gulf to Eilat throughout the war, and Israeli tankers sailing from Iran were directed to bypass the Red Sea.

Given the geography of the Middle East and the fact that the religious hard liners didn't come into power until the Iranian Revolution much later, I'd be curious to see what evidence there is to the contrary.

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