My New Friend is a Virus: Stuxnet

— by Annette H. Sabbah

My new friend is a Virus.

No, no, no… not the kind that makes us humans sick. This one is neither airborne nor contagious. Nor is it contingent on human proximity to insure high volume spreading capacity. This is one neither you nor I should fear – but rather rejoice in.

This particular “Virus” is what is known in computer lingo as a Trojan Horse. It is a malicious software program which infiltrates a computer, locates and steals all information necessary to destroy programs and data stored on the hardware. It is the newcomer in a line of powerful, ultra-secret and
ultra- sophisticated “cyber-weapons.”  The big difference here: this is a “good Trojan,” one of the good guys.

The virus was set off against the Iranian nuclear threat mostly to ensure Israel’s safety and survival – but also that of all the other countries in the region. For example, we now learn through the much decried Wikileaks scandal that Saudi Arabia is also extremely concerned about Iran. They have been pleading behind closed “diplomatic” doors to: “have the head of the snake cut-off.” Iran’s that is.

For all we know, they may have just had their wish granted.

Stuxnet is the name and – “By-God-we’re-coming-after-your-Allah-damned-nuclear-centrifuges-with-everything-we’ve-got-and-then-some” – is the game.

Stuxnet is a veritable “Cyber-missile” – as it has been described. With a smooth, swift and efficient James-Bondish quality. It cleverly snuck into enemy territory, struck at the heart of the villain (in this case the core of a Nuclear city) and then vanished into thin air. Not one single shot fired, not one single missile deployed, not one single bomb dropped. Most importantly – not one single human life was lost.

A noble Virus.

For almost two years, a complex cyberspace cape and sword battle is being waged in the catacombs of Iran’s Nuclear sites. Since July 2009 – Stuxnet has been wrecking havoc on Iran’s Nuclear plants. Havoc I tell you – no matter what Ahmadinejad is telling the world.

A computer engineered marvel of Einsteinian proportions, an archetype of brilliant ingenuity on the part of thousands of people committed to one and only purpose: to deter, delay or neutralize all together the ever growing threat of a belligerent, nuclear-armed Iran. The results obtained by the thousands of researchers now busy studying its complex codes all converge toward one single explanation: Stuxnet was specifically designed to sabotage and cripple power supplies used in nuclear fuel-refining centrifuge systems by infecting only a specific Siemens-created programmable logic controller.
Precise target location – Natanz, Iran.

Both the Bushehr – a non-weapon grade Atomic Reactor – and the behemoth Natanz Nuclear facility of almost 5000 centrifuges have been severely infected by this massive “worm.” Thousands of centrifuges have literally been spinning out of control for the past year and have been rendered inoperable. This to the great chagrin of distraught Iranian technicians and engineers who are scurrying frenziedly to repair, minimize or reverse the damages, but to no avail.

Because, what made Stuxnet a formidable foe is that, not only was it invisible it was also undetectable. Once its mission is accomplished, it self-destructs leaving no trace. Gone, vanished. Poof.

Programmed to self-regulate, analyze, counter and destroy obstacles as they arise, it traveled several miles under rock solid ground reaching the heart of the beast. Its incommensurately valuable exploit being its ability to evade and circumvent all existing security systems, actually morphing into one of them. Thus camouflaged – it proceeded to gradually alter the speeds at which the centrifuges operated. Under its command, they began to spin wildly out of control and then came to an almost sudden stop – causing considerable damage to both the VFD (Variable Frequency Drive) – a system for controlling the rotational speed – and impacting the quality of the enrichment process of uranium.

Basically, as a report in the Jerusalem Post quotes a German computer expert saying, the “Stuxnet” virus set Iran’s nuclear program back two years. It appears to have done more damage to Iran’s nuclear program than any combination of powerful air strikes could have.

According to the underground media dozens of Russian technicians working at the plants have been accused of this sabotage and many of them – fearing for their lives – have left Iran. Dozens of high level Iranian technicians responsible for this particular nuclear program have disappeared or were executed. As described by German computer expert Ralph Langner, the Stuxnet computer “Virus” was so advanced “it was like the arrival of an F-35 fighter plane into a World War I battlefield.”

Technicians, engineers, security and computer experts the world over have been wrecking their brain trying to figure out who is behind this.
Whose brain-child is this phenomenon? In the light of such engineering complexity and unprecedented precision targeting – is it presumptuous to think this is a joint US/Israel pre-emptive, cyber-salvo against Ahmadinejad? Possibly with a little helping hand from our German, French and Russian counterparts….

With their Nuclear sites running amok the Iranians are certainly less of a threat then they were one year ago, and at least for the next two years Israel can feel safer. Enough time to elaborate a new plan of dealing with Iran – this time for perpetuity – one can only hope.

Maybe now, the Ahmadinejad will think long and hard before uttering yet another in his long litany of threats against Israel.

What we may have here is a modern replay of the ancient biblical plagues God brought upon Egypt, albeit with a slight twist, where “Let my people
go” is replaced by: “Let my people be, or else.”

The protagonist in this story (dare I say Israel) is laying low and keeping a low profile as regards this extraordinarily consequential and dramatic turn of events. They have decided, wisely I suppose, to put on a Poker face but, we all know well enough who is now holding a Royal Flush.

What’s next I wonder – Cyber-Locust, e-Hail…?


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