Iran arrests 'spies' after Stuxnet attacks on nuclear program

Official blames 'enemy spy services' for worm aimed at industrial control systems

An Iranian intelligence official Saturday said that authorities had detained several "spies" connected to cyber attacks against its nuclear program.

According to the Tehran-based Mehr News Agency, Heydar Moslehi, Iran's minister of intelligence, said that "enemy spy services" were responsible for Stuxnet, the sophisticated worm that has infected at least 30,000 Windows PCs in the country, including some at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Moslehi claimed his ministry had uncovered "destructive activities of the arrogance [of the West] in cyberspace", and said that defensive measures had been put into place to secure Iran's information systems and its nuclear facilities.

Stuxnet, which was first launched in June 2009 but didn't pop into public view until a year later, has been described as "groundbreaking" for its ability to infiltrate networks, sniff out SCADA industrial control systems and reprogram the hardware controllers that monitor and manage machinery in factories, power plants, pipelines and military installations.

Many researchers have concluded that Stuxnet's complex design and SCADA target indicates that it was the work of a state-backed group of hackers, while the large number of infections in Iran hinted that that country's infrastructure, possibly its nuclear facilities, was the intended target.

Last week, security analysts with U.S. antivirus firm Symantec said that Stuxnet's code includes references to a 1979 execution of a prominent Iranian Jewish businessman. The reference may point to Israel as Stuxnet's creator, or may simply be misdirection on the part of the attackers, Symantec said in an analysis published Thursday.

Moslehi did not say how many people had been arrested, or name the intelligence services he believes are behind Stuxnet.

"I assure all citizens that the intelligence apparatus currently has complete supervision on cyberspace and will not allow any leak or destruction of our country's nuclear activities," Moslehi said.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies