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Stuxnet Worm Strikes Nuclear Plant in Iran

bushehr nuclear power plant
Officials in Iran have confirmed that the Stuxnet super worm has infected personal computers at one of the country's nuclear power plants, just a few days after cyber-security experts warned the public that the malware might be targeting Tehran's nuclear facilities. Mahmoud Jafari, who leads Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant, told the IRNA news agency that authorities at the plant are currently trying to remove the malware from infected employee computers, but added that Stuxnet "has not caused any damage to major systems of the plant." Mahmud Liai, an official at Iran's Ministry of Industry and Mines, recently claimed that up to 30,000 Iranian computers had been infected by the worm, as part of what he calls widespread "electronic warfare against Iran."

Widely considered to be the most powerful malware ever seen, Stuxnet primarily targets industrial equipment produced by Siemens, and is reportedly capable of manipulating or destroying real-life infrastructure. Since German experts first discovered it in July, the malware has already popped up in Indonesia, India and Pakistan, but Iran has received the lion's share of its attacks. Although several experts admit that theories of a targeted attack on Iranian nuclear plants are largely rooted in speculation, Iran certainly isn't taking any chances. Last week, the country's atomic nuclear agency reportedly held secret meetings to discuss how to handle a potential cyber attack, even as some officials publicly downplayed the threat.

Given the worm's unprecedented sophistication, many agree that a governmental agency, rather than a rogue hacker, is to blame. Figuring out precisely where the malware originated, however, remains an exceedingly difficult task. Thus far, experts have narrowed down the list of potential countries to a handful of countries, including Israel, Russia, China, the U.K. and, interestingly enough, the U.S.

In 2009, the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had authorized several cyber-intelligence programs, including some capable of deconstructing the electrical and computer networks underpinning Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities. Although President Obama has ramped up the top-secret program since he took office, some remain skeptical that the U.S. is behind this particular attack. "It is easy to look at what we know about Stuxnet and jump to the conclusion that it is of American origin and Iran is the target, but there is no proof of that," says James Lewis, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We may not know the real answer for some time."

Tags: Bushehr, cyberattack, CybersecurityActOf2009, cyberterrorism, CyberWarfare, iran, malware, security, siemens, stuxnet, StuxnetWorm, virus