Was Russia Behind Stuxnet?
Image Credit: Yves Cosentino

Was Russia Behind Stuxnet?

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The Stuxnet computer worm is widely considered to be a U.S.-Israeli cyber weapon crafted to wreak havoc in Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants. But with the identity of the perpetrators still unclear, it might be time to start seeking some alternative explanations. After all, suppose Stuxnet also caught the United States’ defense and intelligence communities with their pants down?  If this is the case, then a very different story could emerge, one involving faceless groups of Russians and their highly sophisticated cyber warriors.

In brief, the case for the United States having designed and developed Stuxnet is as follows: First, neither the United States nor Israel wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The worm, then, is seen as likely part of a covert strategy to delay or destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure while stopping short of war.

The weapon was designed to target a specific version of the Siemens SCADA programmable logic controls (PLC) operating a specific configuration and number of cascading centrifuges found in Iran. Some analysts point to the fact that there were vulnerability assessments being run at Idaho National Labs on Siemens PLC software. Others note that the design of the cyber weapon closely fit Richard Clark’s description in Cyber War of a well-designed and ethically thought out weapon limiting collateral damage due to a vast army of lawyers scrutinizing the effects. The malware-analyst community, meanwhile, points to digital code strings such as “b:myrtus” taken from biblical events important to Israeli identity. And, as the story goes, after the political decisions, vulnerability assessments, and weapon design took place, either an Iranian agent was found to take the USB memory stick into the nuclear facility, or all the computers around the plants were infected with Stuxnet via the conficker worm.

However, what about the case for Russian development and deployment? The Russians don’t support an Iranian indigenous nuclear capability. Their calculus is that their companies’ profit margins will benefit as long as the Iranians keep Russian scientists and engineers in country, who can oversee Iranian nuclear progress. Using its unique insights, Russia then plays a Byzantine game of delay and diplomacy. Delaying a program on technical grounds can’t go on indefinitely. At the same time, their involvement in the nuclear program is leverage in Russo-American negotiations.

Then there’s so-called nuclear gangsterism that was rampant in Chechnya and other breakaway regions over the past two decades. In 1995, for example, Chechen rebels planted a “dirty bomb” in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park. Today, nuclear material is much more secure in Russia thanks to Russo-American cooperation. But should Iran develop a full-blown nuclear capability, Russian national security would be put at risk as Chechen or other violent-Islamic extremist and nationalist rebels look to Iran’s version of nuclear entrepreneur AQ Kahn to gain access to nuclear technology. Keeping access to Iran’s nuclear program, while keeping the Iranians far from the capacity to “break out” into full nuclear material production, is the balancing act Russia must play.

Comments
34
Betty Benson
March 5, 2012 at 10:43

I just watched a segment on 60 Minutes talking about this planted virus, Stuxnet. I believe it really is an Israeli/US innovation planted to slow down the enrichment of Iran’s centrifuges. What concerns me is the recent propaganda on Iran’s possession of a military nuclear capability and how Israel want to go to war with US backing. The Stuxnet was supposed to have been undetectable, but it was detected and it did have some affect on Iran’s nuclear capabilities but I’m assuming Iran is back on track. Israel now wants to make a preemptive strike. Why? In the 60 Minutes report, it did reveal that Stuxnet can be used by anyone wanting to cause destruction through cyber attacks. Interested persons/countries around the world can now use Stuxnet to attack US infrastructure. Can you imagine a Stuxnet infiltration of our power grid? The US and Israel have the hubris to believe they are the only countries with intelligent scientists and computer gurus. Their mistake is not waking up to the fact that the rest of this planet is populated by highly developed human beings as well their own countries.

Shantal
February 23, 2012 at 14:51

The emepror has no clothes and Imam Khomeini and the Iranians were the first ones to say it and prove in action. They have to be punished for this (intellectual) regicide.

Nils
February 21, 2012 at 10:30

R S Hack,Do you think Hillary Clinton alluatcy understood that the US should support the May 17 Tehran declaration, but that for domestic political reasons she urged Obama to try to undermine that agreement?

David S.
January 4, 2012 at 22:38

What about a combination of the three countries? Strange bedfellows indeed.

Leonard R.
December 26, 2011 at 06:30

@kattemann:

“Mossad? The first ever act of terrorism where I live was the murder of a perfectly innocent Moroccan waiter – by a Mossad team.”

Was it the food? Or were they unhappy about the service?

Really
December 20, 2011 at 20:25

Did Russian scientists really design Iran’s centrifuge plants and not just the light water reactor?

Darren P
December 18, 2011 at 08:32

Personally, I couldn’t care less who developed it. My problem with the whole Stuxnet story is how early he news of it was made public. According to various stories, this virus not only wrecks computer systems in it’s present form, but has the ability to evolve over time to continue doing so.
Plus, it sounded like this worm was very effective- so why tell the world about it while it was doing such a wonderful job? Why not just quietly let it keep on doing it’s job, and not tip the Iranians as to what is happening?

Moby
December 13, 2011 at 01:35

A weak point in the US-Israel theory is that it was designed in such a way that would make the risk-averse lawyers at CIA, NSA stomp up and down aghast at the thought of releasing it. Not so sure about Russia, but this article makes more sense than the propaganda of the US being behind it!

Guy
December 12, 2011 at 21:47

I’m not sure what you’re confused by.

A weapon that damages centrifuges that are not online is a much more ethical solution than alternatives that can cause collateral damage and end lives.
And I find it much more plausible that the Israeli reference was planted than the notion that it was left behind accidentally and was not caught by the many layers of review that such a project must entail.

Michael
December 12, 2011 at 17:40

The article is nothing more than pure Misinformation, Deception and Propaganda!!!

Dave Stern
December 12, 2011 at 10:16

This article is nothing more than propaganda. Everyone with even an ounce of brain knows that Mossad & CIA were behind Stuxnet. Heck, even a retiring Mossad general took credit for it.

The Diplomat has lost all credibility by publishing this psyop nonsense.

ali
December 12, 2011 at 10:02

I LOL’d at this title, what an absurd allegation.

alreaud
December 12, 2011 at 08:56

That’s great and devious enough to fit the Empire of the Czars. But just how deep is this multi-dimensional chess game, hmmm? And how far do some of us want to let certain cats out of the bag, contrary to national interests?

Not a peep out of America/EU about proved N. Korean capability, as opposed to possible(?) Iranian capability? What’s up with that? Did China say mind your own business or did NK say “We got them, go pack sand.”?

JUSTSAYNO
December 12, 2011 at 00:28

LOL. At least the author has a good motive to write this stuff.

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