An AFP report earlier today reveals that the Stuxnet malware has been found at Iran’s nuclear power plant at Bushehr. (All the blockquotes below are from the AFP report.)
Iranian officials confirm that 30,000 industrial computers in Iran have been hit by Stuxnet yet deny that Bushehr was among those infected.
That might be what Iranian officials believe, but whether it’s a belief based on fact is another matter.
As we get further into this report, it becomes apparent there is a high probability both that Bushehr has been penetrated and that the malware may still be active.
Siemens said its software has not been installed at the plant, and an Iranian official denied the malware may have infected nuclear facilities.
Siemens might not know that its software was installed at the plant, but thanks to a UPI photograph, we know that Bushehr control systems do indeed run on Siemens’ WinCC SCADA system. The warning shown below says: “WinCC Runtime License: Your software license has expired. Please obtain a valid license.”
This is what Ralph Langner, a German industrial security expert, saw as a red flag indicating that the plant is vulnerable to a cyber attack.
“This virus has not caused any damage to the main systems of the Bushehr power plant,” Bushehr project manager Mahmoud Jafari said on Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam television network.
“All computer programmes in the plant are working normally and have not crashed due to Stuxnet,” said Jafari, adding there was no problem with the plant’s fuel supply.
The official IRNA news agency meanwhile quoted him as saying the worm had infected some “personal computers of the plant’s personnel.”
And no infected personal computers have been hooked into the plants control system?
As indicated in this photograph showing Russian contractors inside Bushehr, the path from a personal computer to the plant’s control system is short and direct.
As for the fact that Bushehr’s control system has not crashed, the fact that the project manager cites this as evidence that the system is malware-free suggests that he does not understand how Stuxnet is designed. Stuxnet monitors process conditions and until those conditions have been met, everything should work fine. This is not like a virus that slows down an operating system.
Given the inside knowledge that Stuxnet’s creators required, it seems quite likely that the moment they would want it to kick into action — assuming that Bushehr was the intended target — would be a moment at which a catastrophic system failure could be attributed to a flaw in the facility’s construction, design or operation. A failure, for instance, as the plant approaches its intended full operational generation capacity. The 1000 megawatt plant is expected to have reached only 40% capacity by the end of December.
Telecommunications minister Reza Taqipour said “the worm has not been able to penetrate or cause serious damage to government systems.”
Again, this statement suggests a lack of understanding about Stuxnet’s highly targeted design and the fact that it is designed not to cause damage elsewhere.
Mahmoud Liayi, head of the information technology council at the ministry of industries said:
…industries were currently receiving systems to combat Stuxnet, while stressing Iran had decided not to use anti-virus software developed by Siemens because “they could be carrying a new version of the malware.”
“When Stuxnet is activated, the industrial automation systems start transmitting data about production lines to a main designated destination by the virus,” Liayi said.
“There, the data is processed by the worm’s architects and then engineer plots to attack the country.”
If this is the official consensus, Iranian facilities such as Bushehr are as vulnerable now as they were before anyone knew about Stuxnet. Liayi’s statement suggests that Stuxnet is being viewed as a tool of espionage designed to facilitate rather than execute sabotage.
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