Iranian engineers have succeeded in neutralizing and purging the computer virus known as Stuxnet from their country’s nuclear machinery, European and US officials and private experts say.
The malicious code, whose precise origin and authorship remain unconfirmed, made its way as early as 2009 into equipment controlling centrifuges Iran is using to enrich uranium, dealing a significant but perhaps temporary setback to Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons work.
Many experts believe that Israel, possibly with assistance from the US, was responsible for creating and deploying Stuxnet, but no authoritative account of who invented Stuxnet or how it got into Iran’s centrifuge control equipment has surfaced.
US and European officials, who insisted on anonymity when discussing a highly sensitive subject, said their governments’ experts agreed that the Iranians had succeeded in disabling Stuxnet and getting it out of their machinery.
The officials declined to provide any details on how their governments verified that the Iranians had ultimately defeated the virus. It was not clear when it occurred, but secrecy on the subject has been so tight that news is only now emerging.
Some officials said they believe that the Iranians were helped in their efforts by Western cybersecurity experts, whose detailed technical analyses of Stuxnet’s computer code have circulated widely on the Internet.
Once the Iranians became aware that their equipment had been infected by the virus, experts said it would only have been a matter of time before they would have been able to figure out a way of shutting down the malicious code and getting it out of their systems.
“If Iran would not have gotten rid of Stuxnet by now [or even months ago], that would indicate that they were complete idiots,” German computer security consultant Ralph Langner said.
Langner is regarded as the first Western expert to identify the ultra-complex worm and conclude that it was specifically targeted toward equipment controlling Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
The high-speed centrifuges are used to purify uranium, which can fuel a nuclear weapon.