By Richard Sale
Israeli concerns over Iran’s potential nuclear program have reached a shrill crescendo of frantic anxiety.
Yet, a dimension of the issue has consistently overlooked the fact American and Israeli officials are heading a team effort to perfect the new Stuxnet worm, called Duqu, that may be able to bring down Iran’s entire software networks if the Iranian regime gets too close to breakout, U.S. intelligence sources said.
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Stuxnet Report IV: Worm Slithers In
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“Stuxnet has not become useless in the least,” said a serving U.S. intelligence official. “It has all sorts of untapped potential.”
Another intelligence official said, “The cyber warfare potential of Stuxnet has by no means been exhausted. It hasn’t demonstrated the full damage it could cause if deployed.”
According to U.S. sources who refused to be named, Duqu software code shares features of the Stuxnet worm that caused such damage to Tehran’s nuclear program. Duqu has two parts, the first of which does reconnaissance of the target, assessing vulnerabilities, and the next is delivery. In the case of Stuxnet, the United States developed the “payload” for the virus, while Israel used much less sophisticated software to deliver the worm to Iranian machines.
The same more primitive delivery method would be used to field Duqu, U.S. officials said.
The original Stuxnet took several individuals working with corporations to develop, and it was very expensive, sources said. The virus entailed exactly duplicating Iran’s operating systems. U.S. officials could not give exact details, but they speculated that implanting the worm into Iran’s machines probably took an Iranian insider willing to participate who gave them the “program logic” used to control the machines.
According to a report by Symantec, this task alone took 10 developers at least six months to refine. It took more time to introduce and download the worm at Iran’s Natanz’s facility near the desert area of Kashan in central Iran. The computer was probably a laptop, one U.S. official said.
In any case, the worm was not designed to steal data or deny access but to damage centrifuges while the operator saw the system operating successfully.
The U.S. official confirmed President Barack Obama’s administration considered using Duqu against computer facilities in Libya, but dropped the idea after a full discussion.
In the meantime, rumors of an Iranian breakout continue to pile up.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report this week said Iran has made computer models of a nuclear warhead and other previously undisclosed details on secret work by Tehran on nuclear arms.
According to the Israeli newspaper, Hareetz, an Israeli official said last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran. Last Friday, President Shimon Peres said he believes Israel and the world may soon take military action against Iran.
French intelligence sources said Iran just tested a “neuron initiator at the Fordo site near Qom. This initiator is technology used to detonate a nuclear bomb. North Korea sold to Iran an MCNNPX2.6.0 computer program that simulates the neutron and photon flows in nuclear processors
The sources went on to say a delegation of North Korea engineers unveiled the program in Iran earlier this year.
But a serving U.S. intelligence official said the new IAEA report deals mainly with “models, mock-ups, and scenarios.”
He said the threat was being overplayed, “It takes a lot of expertise in weapons design to create a weapon small enough to carry a nuclear warhead, and there is no evidence that Iran has that capability.”
A former senior U.S. intelligence official said, “The question of war is a war of nerves, hoping to stampede the United States into a regional war. It is not going to happen.”
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials along with Israeli security and defense branches are vehemently against attacking Iran while Netanyahu and Barak remain in favor. These sources said Netanyahu may have a hard time mustering a majority in the cabinet and in the security cabinet, the only bodies authorized to make the final decision.
But there is clearly an effort by Netanyahu and Barak to persuade the Americans to take the lead on military action, thereby facilitating broader support in the Israeli cabinet for action. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces are engaged in preparations for the mission.
Richard Sale was United Press International’s Intelligence Correspondent for 10 years and the Middle East Times, a publication of UPI. He is the author of Clinton’s Secret Wars and Traitors.