Stuxnet attack more effective than bombs

While failing to say who developed the attack, the New York Times reports a joint Israeli-U.S. team tested Stuxnet's impact on Iran's uranium enrichment efforts

At a classified installation in Israel, an operational mock-up of Iran's nuclear program helped Israeli and U.S. military design ways to sabotage the Islamic nation's ambitions to build a bomb, according to a report in the New York Times.

The facility played a key role in the development of the cyber attack known as Stuxnet, which caused critical centrifuges -- necessary to refine uranium -- to malfunction. While the article failed to find evidence that Israel, the United States, or a joint effort created Stuxnet, sources indicated that the Israeli site was used to test the impact of the program on Iran's uranium enrichment efforts.

Security experts have long suspected that the two countries most interested in delaying Iran's entry into the nuclear club had a hand in the creation of Stuxnet. Because attribution of such attacks is extremely hard, however, most security professionals have refrained from naming the likeliest culprits.

However, Stuxnet has apparently paid significant strategic dividends. Using an antibunker bomb to take out the Natanz facility could have delayed Iran's efforts by three years, according to policy experts quoted in the Times report. Stuxnet and other nonmilitary efforts have put Iran four years behind, Meir Dagan, retiring chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, stated publicly.

The U.S. efforts involved slowing down Iran's efforts, one quoted official said, "to put time on the clock, and now we have a bit more."

The attack could be the result of covert efforts authorized by the Bush administration before leaving the White House. The Obama administration sped up the efforts, according to the New York Times report.

The ability to test the worm against a mock-up of the Natanz facility resulted in a much more effective attack, experts say.

"To check out the worm, you have to know the machines," an American expert on nuclear intelligence told the New York Times. "The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out."

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