According to the "new york times", the attacks with the computer worm stuxnet on iranian nuclear facilities were personally ordered by u.S. President barack obama. Even when stuxnet came to light in the summer of 2010, obama accelerated the secret operation, code-named "olympic games," he said. This is what the newspaper’s chief washington correspondent david E writes. Sanger, in his new book, from which excerpts were published on friday. He referred to information from security circles.
The webe haus did not want to comment on it. He could neither confirm nor deny the report, deputy government spokesman josh earnest told journalists on friday.
At the same time, earnest rejected questions as to whether this was a "deliberate indiscretion". "Such information is secret for a reason. It would pose a threat to our national security," he said aboard air force one.
Among sanger’s sources, he said, were people who had been at a crisis meeting after the discovery of stuxnet. "Should we stop it now?" Obama had asked there.
But since it was unclear how much the iranians knew about the malware, it was decided to go ahead. In the following weeks, the iranian nuclear factory in natanz was attacked with a newer version of stuxnet and then with another one. The last attack temporarily shut down about 1000 of the then 5000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
Stuxnet was a sophisticated computer worm that exclusively attacked siemens industrial systems in the configuration typical of nuclear centrifuges. The target was the siemens simatic S7 system, which is used in industrial plants to monitor and control technical processes.
Configuration of stuxnet dear experts suspect from the start that iran may have been the target. Moreover, they argued, the software was so complex and elaborately written that it could only be the work of western intelligence agencies. According to the book, american and israeli computer experts were at work, as already suspected. To test stuxnet, a "virtual copy" of the natanz facility has been set up in the u.S.
The impact of the cyberattacks is controversial, writes sanger, who spent a year and a half researching the book. The white house believes that iran’s nuclear program was set back 18 to 24 months. Other experts are more skeptical, believing that iranian scientists quickly ramped up enrichment again and that the country now has enough material for five or more nuclear weapons.
Obama was aware that he could unleash a new kind of warfare with the action, according to participants in the secret meetings. His concern was that with the american admission of cyberattacks, other countries or terrorists could also use it. At the same time, he had hoped to use the computer attacks to prevent an israeli military attack on iran, which could have led to a major regional conflict. If the cyberattack fails, there will be no time for sanctions and diplomacy, obama warned.
Stuxnet was discovered as a result of a software error, writes sanger. The computer malware, which was never supposed to leave the facility in natanz, nested on an engineer’s computer. When he later connected the computer to the internet, stuxnet did not realize that the computer was no longer in the nuclear facility and began to spread. According to sanger’s sources, the flaw was in a stuxnet modification by the israeli partners.
The cyberwar program was still in place during the time of obama’s predecessor george W. Bush had been baptized from the baptismal font. It was not until the current president was in office, however, that american and israeli computer experts had finally completed the complex worm. Obama supervised the program and personally authorized every further step, sanger writes.
After stuxnet, other unusual computer malware had caused a stir among IT security experts. For reasons that are not yet clear, the trojan duqu contained some elements of the stuxnet code. Now a virus with the name flame is in the center of attention, with 20 megabyte much bigger than stuxnet. The software can turn on the computer’s microphone and eavesdrop on speech, record screen contents and keystrokes, and spy on the data network. German experts from the federal office for information security (BSI) do not see flame as a weapon for cyber warfare. The russian antivirus company kaspersky lab, however, considers the program dangerous and sophisticated.