Monday, September 27, 2010

Yes it's true, yet strangely you don't see that headline splashed across CNN.  The reason is that this wasn't a conventional attack on Iran, it was a cyber attack.  As David Sanger reported in the New York Times,

The Iranian government agency that runs the country’s nuclear facilities, including those the West suspects are part of a weapons program, has reported that its engineers are trying to protect their facilities from a sophisticated computer worm that has infected industrial plants across Iran.
In short, a computer worm has infiltrated the systems that run Iran's nuclear facilities, causing an unspecified amount of damage.  As the story reports, experts (and I am certainly not one) believe the level of sophistication of the attack could only be achieved by a state.  Without further information about the extent of the damage or nature of the worm, which given the nature of attack is unlikely to be made public, it's impossible to say for sure who released the worm or why, but early speculation points at two prime suspects - Israel and the United States.

Attacking the technological base of the Iranian nuclear program is not a solution to the problem, but it will most likely slow the program.  While that may seem minor, if you believe Jeffrey Goldberg's recent article in The Atlantic then perhaps a bit of time may be tremendously important.

Even more important, however, will be the repercussions from this attack.  If Iran believes that the U.S. or Israel was behind the attack, it may seek to retaliate, in cyberspace or with a conventional attack.  Furthermore, if other nations, particularly China and Russia, come to believe that America was behind this attack, it could mark the start of a new era of cyberwar.  Until now countries have tested defenses and capabilities, much like boxers circling the ring and throwing exploratory jabs.  Launching a prominent attack on Iran's nuclear systems could come to be viewed as the first real punch thrown in this match, and could signal to other powers that the fight is on. 

Once that barrier is crossed, and cyberwar crosses from potential to actual, there is no going back.


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