Iran's Nuclear Agency Battles Virus That Can Bring Down Power Plants

Sophistication of computer virus suggests a Western government may have been involved in creating it, analysts say.

Iranian media reports said Friday that the country's nuclear agency is trying to combat a complex computer worm that has affected industrial sites in Iran and is capable of taking over power plants.

The computer virus, which attacks a widely used industrial system, appears aimed mostly at Iran and its sophistication suggests a state may have been involved in creating it, Western cyber security companies said earlier in the day.

Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran AP August 21, 2010
AP

Kevin Hogan, Senior Director of Security Response at Symantec, told Reuters 60 percent of the computers worldwide infected by the so-called Stuxnet worm were in Iran, indicating industrial plants in that country were the target.

European digital security company Kaspersky Labs said the attack could only be conducted "with nation-state support."

"Stuxnet is a working and fearsome prototype of a cyber-weapon that will lead to the creation of a new arms race in the world," it said in a statement about the virus, which attacks Siemens AG's widely used industrial control systems.

The companies' remarks are the latest in a series of specialist commentary stirring speculation that Iran's first nuclear power station, at Bushehr, may have been targeted in a state-backed attempt at sabotage or espionage.

"It's pretty clear that based on the infection behavior that installations in Iran are being targeted," Hogan said of the virus.

At a cyber watch center run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security outside Washington, a U.S. government official declined to be drawn out on reports that Bushehr was the main target.

"It's very hard to understand what the code was developed for," Sean McGurk, who runs the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, told reporters.