Iranian engineers have succeeded in neutralizing and purging the
computer virus known as Stuxnet from their country's nuclear machinery,
European and US officials and private experts have told Reuters.
malicious code, whose precise origin and authorship remain unconfirmed,
made its way as early as 2009 into equipment controlling centrifuges
Iran is using to enrich uranium, dealing a significant but perhaps
temporary setback to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons work.
experts believe that Israel, possibly with assistance from the United
States, was responsible for creating and deploying Stuxnet. But no
authoritative account of who invented Stuxnet or how it got into Iran's
centrifuge control equipment has surfaced.
US and European
officials, who insisted on anonymity when discussing a highly sensitive
subject, said their governments' experts agreed that the Iranians had
succeeded in disabling Stuxnet and getting it out of their machinery.
officials declined to provide any details on how their governments
verified that the Iranians had ultimately defeated the virus. It was not
clear when it occurred but secrecy on the subject has been so tight
that news is only now emerging.
Some officials said they believe
that the Iranians were helped in their efforts by Western cybersecurity
experts, whose detailed technical analyses of Stuxnet's computer code
have circulated widely on the Internet.
Once the Iranians became
aware that their equipment had been infected by the virus, experts said
it would only have been a matter of time before they would have been
able to figure out a way of shutting down the malicious code and getting
it out of their systems.
"If Iran would not have gotten rid of
Stuxnet by now (or even months ago), that would indicate that they were
complete idiots," said German computer security consultant Ralph
Langner. Langner is regarded as the first Western expert to identify the
ultra-complex worm and conclude that it was specifically targeted
toward equipment controlling Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Sommer, a computer security expert based in Britain, said that once Iran
had detected the presence of the worm and figured out how it worked, it
shouldn't have been too hard for them to disable it.
know that it's there it's not that difficult to reverse engineer...
Neutralization of Stuxnet, once its operation is understood, would not
be that difficult as it was precisely engineered to disrupt a specific
item of machinery.
"Once Stuxnet's signature is identified it can be eliminated from a system," Sommer added.
experts say that however well-crafted the original Stuxnet was, whoever
created it probably would have to be even more clever if they want to
try to supplant it with new cyber-weapons directed at Iran's nuclear
"Aspects of Stuxnet could be re-used, but it is
important to understand that its success depended not only on 'clever
coding' but also required a great deal of specific intelligence and
testing. It was the first known highly-targeted cyber-weapon, as opposed
to more usual cyber weapons which are more diffuse in their targeting,"
Sommer said.Former UN weapons inspector calls program "cat and mouse game"
Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector who has extensively
investigated Iran's nuclear program for the private Institute for
Science and International Security, which he leads, said that spy
agencies would have to go back to the drawing board if they're intent on
continuing to try to hobble Iran's nuclear program via cyber-warfare.
says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but many Western
officials believe it is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
would assume that once Iran learned of Stuxnet, then intelligence
agencies looked at this method of cyber attack as compromised regardless
of how long it has taken Iran to neutralize it. It is a cat and mouse
But Albright added that "intelligence agencies have likely
been looking at more advanced forms of attack for a couple of years
that they hope will catch the Iranians unprepared."
surfaced in 2010 that Iran's main nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz
was hit by Stuxnet, though some experts later said it likely first was
deployed a year earlier. Experts who later analyzed the Stuxnet code
said it was engineered specifically to attack machines made by the
German company Siemens that control high-speed centrifuges, used to
purify uranium which can fuel a nuclear weapon.
the United States and Israel of planting the virus. In November 2010,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that malicious software had
created problems in some of Iran's uranium enrichment centrifuges,
although he said the problems had been solved.
said, however, that while they believed the virus' potency waned over
time, they had not heard confirmation that the Iranians had defeated and
Experts say the inventors of Stuxnet had to be
unusually clever because the centrifuge control equipment at which it
was targeted - and which it apparently succeeded in hobbling - was
entirely cut-off from the Internet. So not only did the worm's creators
have to write a code that would cause targeted equipment to malfunction
but they had to figure out a way to physically introduce the code into a
Most experts think the virus was somehow introduced into Iran's control systems via some kind of computer thumb drive.
and US experts have said that they believe that Stuxnet, at least for a
time, caused serious malfunctions in the operations of Iranian nuclear
Iran and its antagonists today appear to be engaged
in multiple levels of clandestine warfare, with unknown assailants
killing Iranian nuclear scientists and, in the last few days, bomb
attacks on Israeli embassy personnel in India and Georgia. Israel has