A New York Times report this morning appears to confirm what has long been suspected by many: that the United States and Israel were responsible for the Stuxnet cyber attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Among the story's key points:
- The cyber attack against Iran was a years-long undertaking - oddly code-named Olympic Games -- that began in 2006 under President Bush, who urged President Obama to continue the effort. Obama oversaw a dramatic acceleration of the attack and was directly involved in the details of its planning and execution.
- Obama ordered the attack's acceleration even after the existence of Stuxnet, if not its masters, became publicly known in 2010 after samples were captured in the wild.
- Experts consulted by the Times disagree on the extent to which Stuxnet delayed Iran's nuclear program.
- Israel was a full collaborator in the development of Stuxnet.
- Prior to its deployment, Stuxnet was tested on centrifuges like the ones used by Iran that had come into U.S. possession in 2003 after Libyan Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi gave up his country's nuclear program.
- Whether butt-covering or not, the U.S. blames Israel for the fact that Stuxnet "escaped" the confines of the Iranian nuclear facility into the wild, with Vice President Joe Biden reported to have said: "It's got to be the Israelis. They went too far."
- Getting Stuxnet into the nuclear facility did require physical access: "That was our holy grail," one of the architects of the plan said. "It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn't think much about the thumb drive in their hand."
Debate over the significance of this story will be intense; so, too, the decision by the Times to publish it (not merely justified, but an obligation, in my opinion).
Given the preexisting assumptions that the U.S. and/or Israel were likely behind Stuxnet, it's difficult to imagine that this apparent confirmation will prove material to any cyber warfare planning on the part of other nations or individuals. However, the propaganda value is undeniable.
So, too, the fact that history will note Stuxnet as a defining moment in whatever future unfolds in the world of cyber warfare.
And, of course, the need for the U.S. to step of defensive measures grows ever more urgent.
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