Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Cyberweapon That Almost Succeeded in Blowing Up a Nuclear Power Plant

This is a story of a "bomb" that almost succeeded in blowing up a nuclear power plant. It is NOT a story of terrorist bombs being dropped from the sky, airplanes flying into skyscrapers, exploding trucks parked outside of buildings, or suicide bombers. Not those bombs; I talking about a new kind of bomb. One that takes advantage of a hidden vulnerability of the world’s interconnected network of computers. This is the true story of the world’s first cyberweapon – known as Stuxnet. It is a story right out of a spy novel with all the intrigue, espionage, and suspense of stopping the bomb from inflicting it's damage.

The story begins in January 2010 when investigators with the International Atomic Energy Agency had just completed an inspection at the uranium enrichment plant outside Natanz in central Iran. They noticed increased activity of Natanz technicians in their white lab coats, gloves, and blue booties scurrying in and out of the “clean” cascade rooms, hauling out spent centrifuges. Any time the plant decommissioned damaged or otherwise unusable centrifuges, they were required to line them up for IAEA inspection to verify that no radioactive material was being smuggled out in the devices before they were removed. Normally Iran replaced up to 10 percent of its centrifuges a year, due to material defects and other issues. With about 8,700 centrifuges installed at Natanz at the time, it would have been normal to decommission about 800 over the course of the year.

But, when the IAEA later reviewed footage from the surveillance cameras they were stunned as they counted the numbers. The technicians had been replacing the units at an unbelievable rate. Estimates were between 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges were swapped out over the course of a few months. Iran was not required to disclose the reason for replacing so many centrifuges. Officially, the inspectors had no right to ask. But, it was clear to the inspectors that something had damaged the centrifuges.

What the Natanz technicians and IAEA inspectors didn’t know at the time was that the answer they were seeking was hidden all around them, buried in the hard drives and memory modules of the computers in the Natanz plant. A highly destructive digital worm had been unleashed in Iran with one aim – to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and prevent President Ahmadinejad from building a nuclear weapon.

How was this cyberweapon discovered and how it was stopped? Watch the video for the rest of the story…



Post a Comment