Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed today what the rest of the world had pretty much already assumed: Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges have, in fact, taken a bruising from the Stuxnet worm.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday admitted that “software installed in electronic equipment” damaged “several” of the country’s uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to an AFP report.
“They were able to disable on a limited basis some of our centrifuges by software installed in electronic equipment,” Ahmadinejad responded to reporters after he was asked whether his country’s nuclear program encountered problems.
I guess it was getting tough for Iran to keep a straight face while denying that malware was responsible for the problems plaguing its nuclear program. But despite the admission, Ahmadinejad is claiming that the worm has now been stopped and that the program is proceeding on, unscathed.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to believe that Stuxnet could have penetrated the facilities and caused only such minimal damage. According to Ed Barnes’s excellent Fox News investigation on Stuxnet — which should be read in its entirety — the worm was intended to cripple Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Eric Byres, a computer security expert who has studied Stuxnet, told Barnes that the “worm was designed not to destroy the plants but to make them ineffective. By changing the rotation speeds, the bearings quickly wear out and the equipment has to be replaced and repaired. The speed changes also impact the quality of the uranium processed in the centrifuges creating technical problems that make the plant ineffective.”
“In other words,” Barnes writes, “the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”
And apparently, the virus succeeded at its mission. Sources inside Iran told Fox News that the centrifuge program was operating “far below its capacity and that the uranium enrichment program had ‘stagnated’ during the time the worm penetrated the underground facility.” Less than half of Iran’s centrifuges were reportedly operable after Stuxnet hit the facilities.
A source with close knowledge of the situation also told Barnes that removing the worm from Iran’s system would probably take another year to complete, and the plants at Natanz and Bushehr would be unable to function at a normal level until then.
But of course, that’s probably not an admission Iran’s going to be making any time soon.