The Stuxnet computer worm, which was deployed against the Iranian nuclear program a few years ago, may have actually helped push the program ahead, a new report claims.
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The report titled "Are Cyber-Weapons Effective?," written by researcher Ivanka Barzashka from London's King's College and published in the the Royal United Services Institute's journal in April, was based on publicly available data on the Stuxnet worm and the Iranian nuclear program.
Barzashkaa argues that since the malware attack, which was discovered in 2010, Iran has overseen a steady enhancement of the functioning of its centrifuges and its ability to enrich high-grade Uranium, and enlarged the number of operational centrifuges at the Natanz facility.
Though the cyber attack might have temporarily slowed down Iran's nuclear project, the report says that its capabilities have not been diminished, and in fact, they have even improved significantly.
"Stuxnet or no Stuxnet, ceteris paribus, Iran's uranium enrichment capacity increased and, consequently, so did its nuclear-weapons potential," she wrote. "If anything, the malware – if it did in fact infiltrate Natanz – has made the Iranians more cautious about protecting their nuclear facilities ... Stuxnet was of net benefit to Iran if, indeed, its government wants to build a bomb or increase its nuclear-weapons potential."
Moreover, Barzashka is critical of the "public misrepresentation of Stuxnet's effects," saying that it may have led the West to believe that Iran's nuclear program was delayed.
However, Britain's former Foreign Minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who currently chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, criticized the report. Rifkind told The Daily Telegraph that there was no doubt about the fact Stuxnet had caused a significant setback for the Iranian program - a fact Iran itself had confirmed.
The Stuxnet worm was especially designed to disrupt 'SCADA,' an industrial monitoring system produced by the German electronics giant Siemens, which was used by the Iranians.
According to experts, the Stuxnet infiltration preceded the deployment of another worm, which was dubbed Duqu, that was also used to spy on the program. An additional malicious spying software, 'Flame,' was later discovered to have been used against Iranian fuel depots.
According to a book published a year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama had ordered an escalation of cyber warfare operations, and co-ordinated with Israelis tightened in order to prevent an IDF attack on Iran.