Is America at War with Iran?

It has recently come to light that the cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was an American initiative, codename ‘Olympic Games’. The Stuxnet worm, one of the most advanced cyber-weapons ever seen, infiltrated the Natanz plant and sent many of the facility’s centrifugal machines, which are used to enrich uranium, out of control.

Map of Nuclear Facilities in Iran (2006)

The worm raised eyebrows both because of its sheer complexity, and because it proved that cyber-weapons could be a real threat. Liam O’Murchu, of the security firm Symantec, commented on the worms complexity: “It is a very big project, it is very well planned, it is very well funded… It has an incredible amount of code just to infect those machines.” (Source BBC). Furthermore Ralph Langner, an industrial computer expert wrote that: “This is not some hacker sitting in the basement of his parents’ house. To me, it seems that the resources needed to stage this attack point to a nation state”. The vast majority of experts agreed with this; Stuxnet was the work of a nation.

However, up until now there has been no proof as to which nation carried out the attack. With another complex attack, the Flame virus, recently discovered,  the news that the Bush and Obama administrations were behind the Stuxnet worm is even more significant.

In his new book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, David E Sanger cites anonymous senior sources within the administration. Sanger also reported that at one point President Obama, in a meeting with his advisers including the head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, asked: “Should we shut this thing down?”. However he later decided to continue with the operation.

The news that America was behind this attack on Iran will have wider ramifications at the next batch of talks over Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian delegation are likely to seize upon the issue. Furthermore, Peter Beaumont and Nick Hopkins, in their article for the Guardian, considered the reactions of Russia and China who “are regularly accused by Washington of cyber espionage and theft”.

With Stuxnet unmasked and Flame recently discovered, the potential of cyber-warfare is becoming obvious, and the threat it poses to society even more so. How this latest news regarding American involvement in Stuxnet will affect the talks with Iran will become clear in future. As always, keep an eye on the news.

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