The Obama Administration has admitted for the first time that it is collaborating with Israel to develop cyberweapons to use against Iran, reports David E. Sanger of The New York Times.The report, adapted from Sanger’s forthcoming book and based on interviews with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program as well as outside experts, provides a detailed (albeit incomplete) account of the joint U.S.-Israeli cyber tactics applied against Iran.
The cyberwar initiative, code-named Olympics Games, began under the Bush Administration in 2006 and has been progressively accelerated since Barack Obama took office.
Administration officials revealed to Sanger that the Stuxnet virus was developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Israel’s Unit 8200 (i.e. Israel’s secretive cyber arm) to “become the attacker from within” Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Officials also said that the recent Flame virus was not part of Olympic Games and declined to say whether Flame was a U.S.-Israeli attack, but the nature of the virus and sequence of events imply that it is part of the cyber offensive against Iran.
The first step in the cyberwar, according to Sanger, was to develop a “beacon” that could be inserted into Iranian computers to “draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant” (i.e. an underground site where Iran was enriching uranium) and send messages to the NSA headquarters that would describe “the structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant.”
That fits the description of the Duqu virus, which cybersecurity researchers describe as “a surveillance tool used to copy blueprints of Iran’s nuclear program” that was created around August 2007.
As Duqu provided the NSA with blueprints of how the centrifuges at Natanz were connected to its electronic directories, the NSA and Unit 8200 began developing Stuxnet — which, according to cybersecurity experts, first appeared in June 2009 and eventually destroyed roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges by causing them to spin out of control.
Cybersecurity researchers believe that Flame – a massive surveillance virus that collects information from networks in numerous ways (including using Bluetooth to gather data from nearby cell phones and tablets) — may have been designed before or at the same time as Duqu.
Flame was first encountered in 2007 and may have been active for at least five years and perhaps eight years or more, according to the Hungarian Laboratory of Cryptography and Systems Security (which first discovered Duqu).
Yesterday we reported that Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cybersecurity firm that discovered Flame last weekend, told The New York Times that the 20 megabyte program shares notable features with the Duqu and Stuxnet malware and that they believe all three viruses were written by the same state-sponsored campaign.
The administration has also “discussed the irony, more than once” of how American acknowledgment of employing cyberweapons and drones “could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.”
This acknowledgment, perhaps, indirectly gives credence the notion that Obama’s drone war is radicalizing people in Yemen and providing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with opportunities to recruit people who want revenge for untold civilian casualties.
Sanger ends the article by pointing out the primary consequence of initiating a cyberwar:
Mr. Obama has repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and particularly to overusing — the weapon. In fact, no country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.
For more interesting details, such as how and when Stuxnet “began replicating itself all around the world,” you can click here to read the whole story at NYT >
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