The New York Times is reporting that Stuxnet computer worm has destroyed 20% of the nuclear centrifuges in Iran, setting back their Nuclear bomb program by three years. (Other sources estimate 10 percent damaged.)
The article reports that, cooperating with the USA, Israel tested and developed the virus at the secret Dimona facility in the Negev, where Israeli's undiscussed nuclear weapons are developed and stored.
The Times article reports that the main focus, in development of the Stuxnet virus, was on computer controllers. These devices that are becoming more and more ubiquitous in all kinds of factory equipment, machinery, automobiles, even toys. Wikileaks collection of State Department cables included ones from 2009 expressing concern, as the Times article reports, " urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control "uranium enrichment cascades" -- the term for groups of spinning centrifuges."
To make the Stuxnet worm work as a precision industrial weapon, it was necessary to acquire some of the more than six foot tall centrifuges so they could be tested. This is where the Israeli Dimona facility played a key role.
Once the virus was deployed, it had partial, not complete success in damaging the Iranian nuclear effort.
In late November, Mahmoud Ahmadinejead reported,
" "[Iran's enemies] succeeded in creating problems for a limited number of our centrifuges with the software they had installed in electronic parts," Ahmadinejad said. "They did a bad thing. Fortunately our experts discovered that, and today they are not able [to do that] anymore."
it is estimated that almost 1000 of the centrifuges were damaged.
The times wrote, as the title states, this is "the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed."
Ced Kurtz, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, "Taking out a tenth of the centrifuges at the Iranian facility is comparable to an air strike. Now that is war."
In the past, if a government attacked another nation's factory, that would be considered an act of war.
Now, we are faced with a situation in which the US collaborated with Israel to build a cyberweapon that caused millions, perhaps billions in damage to Iran.
Teheran knew in November that the Stuxnet worm had caused the destruction. Now, with the NY Times report, if not before, Iran is faced with a decision. Will it take the cyberattack as an act of war? If so, will it respond in kind? If so, it is likely that Iran will source cyberweapons where it can find them, as it has sourced weapons construction resources from places like Pakistan and North Korea.
One place Iran may seek powerful cyberweapons is China. There, the Chinese have access to tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of computers which have Green Dam software installed on them. While this is purportedly to protect the young from pornography, it provides a point of easy access to millions of computers, which COULD be used to initiate incredibly power denial of service attacks and other malevolent efforts. It is inconceivable that the US and G20 nation not know the cyberweapon potential of the combined installations of millions of Green Dam Software.
That reality suggests that the Stuxnet worm is a tiny tip of a massive, and fast growing iceberg of Cyberwarfare technologies. It is very likely that before long, tens of millions of computers, very likely including smart phones and notepads, in the US and throughout the world will, unknown to their users, include software code, lying silent, in wait for commands, that will be used to launch attack on targets the computer owners know nothing of, as is done with common computer virus mediated denial of service attacks. The difference will be that these attacks will be government or military initiated.
The question is, will these attacks be considered attacks that signal the start of wars?