US claims Russia behind Stuxnet

Tinfoil hats at the ready. While many think that the US and Israel were behind the Stuxnet computer worm that hit Iran’s nuclear facilities, the latest speculation is that it might have been Moscow.

Dr. Panayotis A. Yannakogeorgos is a cyber defense analyst with the U.S. Air Force Research Institute. He told the Diplomat that the one weak point in the theory that the US and Israel hit the Iranian nuclear problem with Stuxnet is that both sides denied it when they would not have had to.

Yannakogeorgos said that the Russians could have equally carried out the attack. Apparenly the Russians are not that happy about an Iranian indigenous nuclear capability even if they are helping build it.

Russia has a good reason not to want Iran to get its paws on nuclear technology. In 1995, for example, Chechen rebels planted a “dirty bomb” in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park. Nuclear material is much more secure in Russia but if Iran develops a full-blown nuclear capability, Chechen or other violent extremist and nationalist rebels go to Iran to buy the material.

Yannakogeorgos thinks it is better for Russia to string the Iranians along. Russian companies will make money as the Iranians keep Russian scientists and engineers in the country, who can oversee Iranian nuclear progress. But the problem is that if the Russians delay a programme on technical grounds Iran will smell a rat.

“At the same time, their involvement in the nuclear program is leverage in Russo-American negotiations,” Yannakogeorgos said.

He suggested it was much better for the Russians to plant a worm with digital US-Israeli fingerprints so it would have to appear as if it were a clandestine operation by an adversary that didn’t have access to the gateway entry points. Observers of the virus could alert the Iranians before full nuclear catastrophe struck.

Yannakogeorgos noted that it was a Belarusian computer security expert who “discovered” the code. But they mysteriously did not seem interested in reverse engineering the malicious code to see what it was designed to do. Symantec researchers took on that task.

If this is true, Iran fell for it. The Stuxnet attack, coupled with an assassination campaign targeting Iranian nuclear and computer scientists and various leaks suggesting covert action, all made for a compelling case of US involvement.

Meanwhile, the Iranian boffins themselves are nervous about having gear which might have a virus on board and they, not the Russians are slowing down the development.