- Details of U.S. presidents backing for high tech attacks on Iran confirmed by security team source
- The 2010 Stuxnet virus was developed with the Israeli government to set back Iranian nuclear research
- The attacks appear to be continuing with Iran highlighting new computer viruses
PUBLISHED: 11:24 EST, 1 June 2012 | UPDATED: 11:35 EST, 1 June 2012
Barack Obama secretly stepped up a viral war on Iran’s nuclear programme by creating a virus that has now escaped into the rest of the internet.
Obama accelerated the attacks which began under the previous Bush administration and were code-named Olympic Games.
One of the computer viruses, Stuxnet, accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 after getting out of Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant.
The error sent the damaging programme, reportedly developed by the U.S. and Israeli governments, around the world on the internet.
Computer security experts began studying the government developed worm and named it Stuxnet.
After the ‘escape’ Obama and senior White House officials urgently met to discuss if their high tech attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.
Not only did it pose a threat to computers outside Iran, it also undermined Obama’s political attacks on other old enemies, such as China, for launching cyber-raids on the US.
‘Should we shut this thing down?’ he asked two years ago, according accounts given to the New York Times by members of the president’s national security team.
But the U.S. decided the cyber-attacks should continue and in the following weeks, the Iranian Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that.
The last of that series of attacks took place a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, according the New York Times.
The worm was designed to break the Iranian nuclear centrifuge equipment by issuing commands to the hardware responsible for their spin rate.
Both Governments hoped to set back Iran’s research programme and the U.S. also hoped to keep Israel from launching a pre-emptive military attack.
The code was only supposed to work within Iran’s Natanz refining facility, which was protected from outside networks and hard to penetrate, according to the Ars Technica website.
Computers and memory cards could be carried between the public internet and the private Natanz network offering a way in for the cyber attack.
A preliminary bit of code was used to map out all the network connections within the plant and report them back to the U.S.
That program, first authorized by George W. Bush, provided a digital map of Natanz and its industrial control hardware.
U.S. labs then began testing different bits of the plan to sabotage Natanz using similar centrifuges that had come from Libya.
When the coders found the right sets of commands to literally shake the centrifuges apart, they knew that Stuxnet could work.
When Obama came to office, he continued the program which had disabled bits of the Natanz plant even while telling controllers everything was normal.
But in 2010, Stuxnet escaped, probably on someone’s laptop according to Ars Technica and did what it was designed not to do – spread in public.
‘We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,’ one of the briefers told the president, ‘and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.’
Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant, but the answer about its potential impact was unclear.
The government also feared Stuxnet’s escape would damage US credibility when it complained about such attacks launched by other nations.
Obama was at least aware of the issue, but pressed ahead, even accelerating the Olympic Games program.
One of his aides said: ‘[Obama] repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyber-weapons – even under the most careful and limited circumstances – could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks,’
‘We discussed the irony, more than once.’
International online battle front
In May the British military’s head of cyber security Major General Jonathan Shaw said the Ministry of Defence has been attacked by hackers
In November Foreign Secretary William Hague warned countries like China and Russia to cease hostile cyber attacks on other states
In 2010 Google complained about major attacks on its website by Chinese hackers and suggested the Chinese government may have instigated them
Five years ago cyber-attacks almost crippled the banking system of Estonia with the culprits thought to be Russian criminals or even the Russian government
Since then the cyber-war seems to have continued, with last month computer technicians at Iran’s Oil Ministry cutting off its internet links as the battled a complex virus.
At the time, Iranian officials described it as a data-siphoning blitz on key oil networks.
Experts this week named the program Flame and say it can secretly take and transfer computer files and even listen in on the computer’s user.
Its origins remain a mystery, but international suspicion quickly fell on Israel opening another front in its suspected covert wars with Tehran.
Gholam Reza Jalali, who heads an Iranian military unit in charge of fighting sabotage, said: ‘This virus penetrated some fields. One of them was the oil sector.
‘Fortunately, we detected and controlled this single incident.’
Israeli’s vice premier on Tuesday did little to deflect suspicion about the country’s possible involvement.
Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio: ‘Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat is likely to take various steps, including these, to hobble it.
‘Israel is blessed with high technology, and we boast tools that open all sorts of opportunities for us.’