back to article Thinktank: 'Lab-smashing' Stuxnet helped Iran's nuke effort

The Stuxnet worm may have actually pushed forward Iran's controversial nuclear programme over the long term. That's according to a report published by the Royal United Services Institute, an influential defence think tank in the UK. The infamous worm infected systems at Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2009 and …


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  1. Tchou

    Looks like... "crazy ants" could be put to some effective use...

    1. Bill Neal

      Re: Looks like...

      Biological cyber warfare?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "What is undoubted is that it [Stuxnet] significantly slowed down the enrichment process"

    Err, no. An analyst with expertise in this area has a plausible case that the enrichment process sped up, as they replaced centrifuges and improved their techniques in the wake of Stuxnet. I find that analysis far more convincing than an flippant comment from a politician.

    1. Furbian
      Thumb Up


      Sir Malcolm Rifkind's scientific pedigree is not world renowned, and he doesn't appear to have given any sources or evidence other than, "I say so, so it must be".

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Exactly...

        That's generally considered sufficient evidence to start a war - at least in that part of the world

    2. Bill Neal

      a plausible case

      ...and perhaps shooting at race cars would make them drive faster, but it would also cause equipment failures adding cost & time to the race.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is an example of a well known problem in cryptography. How do you act effectively without revealing that you've broken a cipher/code? I think we can safely assume that stuxnet worked _and_ that the Iranians are now taking exra precautions. That's no great revelation.

  4. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Stupid Israelis

    Should have just waited for Win8 to come out and sent it to the Iranians as a gift.

    1. Tom 38

      Re: Stupid Israelis

      Eadon, you're logged in to the wrong account

      1. Phil E Succour

        Re: Stupid Israelis

        Reminds me of this...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @ Tom 28

        And here we see the genius of Eadon's plan;

        To be so over the top ludicrous in bashing Windows that any jibe is tarred with the same brush.

        Eadon: Ballmer's secret buddy.

  5. The Axe

    Closed the door

    That's the problem with subtle attacks. A lot of the time it just raises the awareness of the victim to watch out for further attacks whilst not actually causing any real long term damage. Just like even a minor virus infection in a company will lead it to introduce anti-virus s/w across the board. In this case Stuxnet has made it a lot harder if not impossible to attack Iran via other technological methods. Either they should have gone for the brute force method and destroyed all the centrifuges and made it nigh on impossible to make more or just kept schtum and just monitored what Iran are really up to. There would have been better information about Iran is up to if they had just left it alone.

    And I like the whole "you're not allowed to have nukes but we are because we're the good guys" attitude. Good guys in whose eyes? Depends on which side you're on.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Closed the door

      And the trouble with sending a computer virus is, unlike an explosive weapon, they have an exact copy of the weapon itself with several test cases to learn from.

      1. Furbian
        Thumb Up

        Re: Closed the door

        Even worse, hackers worldwide are handed something developed by a combination of intelligence agency who claim to be the best, debatable, but undoubtedly have a great many resources to hand. Imagine (and this sort of thing may well have happened but not reported) a 'crew' ransoming a power plant.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Closed the door

          I'm pretty sure the click-through Eula prohibits it's use by any other inteligence agencies

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. ACx

    I cant believe it.

    Good guy US interference with an independent legitimate sovereign nation state blows back in its face and makes matters worse, including pushing two dangerous nations closer to war, while an old crusty ex-UK politician makes limp excuses for it, by ignoring every point made.

    Well, let us all hope a lesson learned.....

    (I am hoping that reeks of the sarcasm it was typed with)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I was a crazy anti US dictator who wanted to play with nuclear weapons, I would make a little reactor and produce plutonium with it, maybe about 5MW, enough to get enutrons to turn U238 into PLUTE. I would hide the excess heat in a coal or gas fiired powerstation, and then when I had a load of plute , do an atomic test hidden by synchronising it with when an earthquake went off. Then the geo surveys would think it was an echo from the molten earth core or some such shit.

    With my working nuke design I would then wait until the us navy was near my country and set off nukes near one of their ships, and the world think the US had caused an accidental detonation and everybody would hate them and think they were incompetent loons.

    But I am not a crazy anti US dictator, I am just another techy C programmer having a coffee break.

    There you go.

    1. squigbobble


      So, you'll disguise the gamma emissions of the nuke test with what? Your secret stockpile of WW1 glow in the dark watches?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "do an atomic test hidden by synchronising it with when an earthquake went off"

      In the case of Iran it wouldn't be a test, it would be a demonstration to the outside world. In that case they want it to be seen. The challenge Iran has is that to succeed in its aims of becoming a nuclear state, it has to have sufficient "fuel" for more than one device, it needs to have the devices weaponised (ie compact enough to fit on the end of a missile), and it has to have the delivery mechanisms for the weapons (missile, launchers, guidance etc)..

      If it simply had the material for one truck size device that it tests Los Alamos style, it invites immediate US and Israeli attack to prevent further compact devices being made and delivery systems being built. But if there's reason to believe they've tested a device, but have another three or more on missile warheads ready to go, then who's going to risk an attack? For all the claims about US and Israeli anti-missile systems, they don't want to be banking on the effectiveness of those against an incoming nuke, and they've got to protect not just Israel, but also UAE, Qatar and Saudi.

  9. Don Jefe


    This Captain Hindsight bullshit is terribly detrimental to governance. RUSI is like every other 'think tank' in that they only see parts of the issue and always get their feelings hurt if their ideas aren't accepted. They are as bad as politicians. The fact of the matter is the decision was made and now everybody has to live with it. Going back and looking only at partial data does no one any good and they never have full access just whats handed to them and what 'sources' (random guy who says he knows something) provide. Remember these are the same guys, using the same data gathering and analysis techniques that proved Iraq had 'WMD's' and yellowcake. Think tanks are generally always wrong or so partially correct they misinterpret everything else.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: RUSI

      "RUSI is like every other 'think tank' in that they only see parts of the issue and always get their feelings hurt if their ideas aren't accepted. They are as bad as politicians"

      What crap.

      I think you have a very weak idea of who and what RUSI is. Unlike many of the dubiously funded "think tanks" lining K Street in Washington, RUSI are very widely respected internationally. They fully understand the limitations of their art and knowledge, and they won't be either surprised or have "hurt feelings" if their ideas are not accepted. They are also well attuned to how defence, intellgence and politics work together, and they'd have expected politicos to be coming out to decry the conclusions of this report. Rather than "hurt feelings" I think you'll find that RUSI has a rather thick skin, and is quite used to ill informed critcism. The Iraq "dossier" was never a product of RUSI, it was a collection of weak and inconclusive evidence spun by yet-to-be-convicted war criminals Blair and Campbell. The intelligence community knew that there was no evidence of WMD grounds for a war, but Blair was determined to support Bush in holding a war. Indeed Dr Brian Jones of RUSI repeatedly told the British government that the intelligence didn't show that Iraq had or was preparing WMD in the period up to the start of hostilities. You could have checked your facts before spouting rubbish.

      But my money's on RUSI with this latest report. A bit of token damage to the centrifuges is about all that Stuxnet achieved, and we've caused Iran to redouble its IT security, as well as encouraging them to take offensive cyberwarfare measures themselves (as appears to have happened with IT attacks on Saudi oil export terminals). I'm surprised Stuxnet even managed to wreck 1,000 centrifuges. After fifty or so had gone wrong, if I'd been in charge I'd simply have put a discrete speed limiter on each centrifuge whilst I tried to work out what was going wrong with the control software. How would you react in Iran's shoes?

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: RUSI

        I agree with you on the effectiveness of Stuxnet. I'm also surprised they let it cause so much damage.

        However on 'think tanks' I don't. We'll just have to disagree on that point. We have consulted with a few, in the U.S. and Europe and other than accents and spelling differences they are extremely similar. The non-published reports maintain a fairly high level of neutrality but the published information is a cherry picked summary of those reports and in my experience always compiled with the target already established. If the report is made public it is a tool to either embarrass someone or to add strength to someone's established argument.

  10. John 62

    Well, we know about Stuxnet, but we don't know about the rest of the stuff that has been going down. There was a spate of Iranian nuclear scientists dying off in suspicious circumstances over the past few years that got very little news coverage. For all we know Stuxnet was a bait and switch, but that might be attributing more intelligence to the intelligence agencies than is fair.

  11. Matt Bryant Silver badge


    ".....1,000 IR-1 centrifuges, out of 9,000 deployed at Natanz....." Yeah, all for "medical isotopes"! Anyone still believing Iran is not racing for nuke weapons is simply too stupid for words. Europe produces all the medical isotopes it needs (and about a third of the World's annual supply) from a single reactor in Holland.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmmm.....

      Time to invade Holland ?

    2. Down not across

      Re: Hmmmmm.....

      Why are you bringing number of reactors into discussion about number of centrifuges used in the cascades?

      It may also be worth noting that the performance of the IR-1s isn't exactly great.

      I would suggest you engage brain before mouth.

      An example of the performance at Natanz:

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Down and out Re: Hmmmmm.....

        "Why are you bringing number of reactors into discussion about number of centrifuges used in the cascades?....." They have one civilian reactor that uses 5% enriched fuel but is already fuelled, they have one tiny medical reactor that already has 50 years of fuel, yet they are running 9000 centrifuges in just one of their facilities and producing 20% enriched "fuel" - if the connection is stumping you then you really are wilfully and obstinately blind, and stupidly so. If the whole of Europe can make all their medical isotopes off one small reactor using low-enriched fuel then you tell me why Iran needs so many centrifuges unless it is for mass production of highly-enriched material for weapons? Oh, hold on a sec, that might actually require you to get a clue - unlikely!

  12. Jim Wilkinson

    The lesson is stealth

    Enigma was cracked by Bletchley Park, but actions were only taken when it could not point back to the code-crackers success. This undoubtedly meant some tough decisions at times. Clearly the art is to act in stealth and leave your target perhaps guessing, but not knowing. The devil is in the detail; but leaving any form of evidence is careless and can only lead to the target trying to evade the embrace and perhaps succeeding in their endeavour.

    Since the intelligence agencies know this well, I suspect it's more complex than made out. Then again......

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The lesson is stealth

      The problem with keeping it secret, is that the US will inevitably make a movie claiming it was all their work

  13. crayon

    @Matt Bryant

    "they have one tiny medical reactor that already has 50 years of fuel"

    Stop peddling your lies. I already corrected you once on this. Last time they bought fuel was 20 years ago, the amount they bought was expected to last 10-20 years.

    "that might actually require you to get a clue - unlikely!"

    My thoughts exactly.

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