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Roger L. Simon

Cyber War on Iran: the Siemens Connection

September 25th, 2010 - 3:34 pm

While the boors and bores of the mainstream media continue to focus on the “crucial matters” of our time such as Stephen Colbert’s tedious appearance before Congress and whether a Delaware senatorial candidate spent two days as a witch in high school,  news of real importance is breaking all around us.

I am not just referring to the cataclysmic testimony by Chris Coates  in front of the Civil Rights Commission on Friday, but to a yet bigger story with a potentially huge implications for geo-politics — the recent (and possibly ongoing) cyber attack on Iranian computers that may have temporarily crippled the nuclear capability (and who knows what else) of the totalitarian Islamic state.

Yesterday, I wrote some preliminary words about this highly sophisticated attack by the so-called “Stuxnet” worm; today we learn the startling news the Iranians themselves have admitted that something serious has happened. Such admissions are certainly not common from the secretive state. From Asia Bizz:

The Iranian Ministry has stated that some 30000 industrial computers have been infected by Stuxnet. One of the main operations done by Stuxnet is that it extracts vital information from these systems and then sends it somewhere abroad. Iran has termed this virus as a spy virus, as it is deploying vital data to other countries. On the other hand it is said, a similar attack has been reported from Iran’s latest nuclear power plant facility, but these reports have not yet been confirmed.

Three-thousand industrial computers … what industries and how extensive the damage is Iran isn’t saying. But we can hazard the guess that most of it is militarily related. Besides the ability to send information abroad, “Stuxnet” is reportedly able to commandeer computers and direct them to destroy what they are managing. If true, this changes the face of warfare.

How did it all start?  The conjecture is that someone stuck a thumb drive in a USB port and off went the malware to infect the network.  This, of course, suggests an inside job of some sort (more of that in a moment). As for whodunit,  among many others, Richard Falkenrath of the Chertoff Group says the attack was too extensive for hackers and was most likely the work of “state actors.”  Falkenrath suggests Israel, because he theorizes the U.S. would not take such a bold step.

That makes sense. But did the Israelis tell the US administration what they were up to — or did they just surprise us, as they did with the raid on Saddam’s Osirak reactor?  As you will recall, when Reagan’s national security adviser, in high dudgeon, reported on that Israeli action to the president, Reagan famously shrugged it off with a “boys will be boys.”  It’s hard to imagine Obama being so blase about anything where Israel is concerned, but some CIA or other U.S. intelligence  involvement in what has occurred remains a possibility.

In all likelihood Israel did not act entirely alone — there were too many moving parts to this attack — and I am going now to suggest another ally — the German electronics giant Siemens AG.

Iranian computers are PCs operating on Windows 7. The minds behind Stuxnet apparently discovered four new vulnerabilities in the latest Windows operating system previously unknown to Microsoft, two of which have reportedly already been plugged. (Nuclear weapons controlled by Windows?  Let’s not even go there.) The actual industrial equipment, however, is controlled by software specially designed for the Iranian by another company — the aforementioned Siemens.

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