The US is pursuing a wide-ranging, high-tech campaign against Iran’s nuclear program that includes the cybersabotage project known as Stuxnet, which was developed by the Central Intelligence Agency in conjunction with Idaho National Laboratory, Israeli agencies, and other US agencies, according to people familiar with the efforts.
“It’s part of a larger campaign,” said a former US official who asked to be unnamed. “It’s a preferable alternative to airstrikes.”
Through the administrations of President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, the US has pursued a cyber campaign, code-named “Olympic Games,” to attack the Iranian program, former US officials said.
The existence of Stuxnet and the presumption of US and Israeli involvement have been widely reported, even though US officials have never confirmed the government’s role. The code name and scope of the project and other details of the effort were reported on Friday by the New York Times in an adaptation from a coming book.
In 2010, it was the United States who launched Stuxnet, a seek-and-destroy cyber missile against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, according to the report. The virus was, in fact, created jointly by the United States and Israel, it said.
In his first months in office, Obama covertly ordered sophisticated attacks on the computers that ran Iran’s nuclear facilities, upping US use of cyber weaponry in a sustained attack, the newspaper said.
But after a programming error, the worm whooshed around the world on the Internet.
The paper said the US continued using the worm although it knew that the malware would damage centers and facilities around the globe.
“Should we shut this thing down?” Obama asked members of his national security team who were in the room told the paper.
Only recently has the US government acknowledged developing cyber-weapons.
Now efforts are underway to decipher the origins of another malicious program experts believe is part of government-sponsored cyber warfare and intelligence gathering. Again, Iran is the target, said the report.
As the Los Angeles Times’ Sergei L. Loiko wrote earlier this week, computer virus experts at Russia’s Kaspersky Lab came across this malware while searching for a villain dubbed the Wiper.
“We entered a dark room in search of something and came out with something else in our hands, something different, something huge and sinister,” Vitaly Kamlyuk, a senior antivirus expert at Kaspersky Lab, said in an interview.
Flame, as it’s called, can copy and steal data and audio files, turn on a computer microphone and record all the sounds nearby, take screen shots, read documents and emails, and capture passwords and logins.
The program can communicate with other computers in its vicinity through the infected computer’s Bluetooth and locate them even without an Internet connection, Kamlyuk said.
“Many people still think that cyber warfare is a myth and a fantasy, but as we reassemble and study one by one the numerous components and modules of this unique program we see that it is a real weapon of this undeclared war that is already going on.”