So what better way to maintain Russian interests, and innocence, than to plant a worm with digital U.S.-Israeli fingerprints? After all, Russian scientists and engineers are familiar with the cascading centrifuges whose numbers and configuration – and Siemen’s SCADA PLC controller schematics – they have full access to by virtue of designing the plants.
Deception would then play a critical role during the cyber weapon design and deployment phase. In designing the virus, Russian computer programmers may have used signatures (both in the code, and in the conceptualization) that would lead to a U.S.-Israeli mastermind. During deployment of the virus, its designers wouldn’t want it traced back to the Kremlin, and so it would have to appear as if it were a clandestine operation by an adversary that didn’t have access to the gateway entry points.
Finally, the observers of the virus could alert the Iranians before full nuclear catastrophe struck. The Belarusian computer security experts who “discovered” the code seemingly played that role well. They didn’t seem too preoccupied with reverse engineering the malicious code to see what it was designed to do. Symantec researchers took on that task. Finger pointing at the United States and Israel then ensued. In political terms, meanwhile, the United States and Israel have had no particular need to formally deny responsibility.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
From the Iranian point of view, the Stuxnet attack, coupled with an assassination campaign targeting Iranian nuclear and computer scientists and various leaks suggesting covert action, all made for a compelling case of U.S. involvement. But whether it was the United States or Russia behind it, it’s clear that in Stuxnet’s aftermath, and with the emergence of other worms within their systems, Iranian nuclear engineers have less confidence in the accuracy of sensor information on digital displays. All this means that there’s now no need for the U.S. or Russia to say anything on the issue – internal conflict in the minds of those responsible for Iran’s nuclear program is doing a perfectly good job of delaying progress.
Dr. Panayotis A. Yannakogeorgos is a cyber defense analyst with the U.S. Air Force Research Institute.