Intelligence officials in Iran arrested several "nuclear spies" today. Iran has been the site of many infections of the Stuxnet worm, which targets industrial control systems.
Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi announced today the
arrests of multiple people he described as "nuclear spies."
Moslehi told the Mehr News
of the arrests, but offered no further details. The
arrests follow reports that the Stuxnet worm infected computers belonging
to staff at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, where it reportedly did no
It is unclear if the arrests are related to the worm, but Moslehi expressed
confidence the country could repel cyber-attacks by foreign intelligence
"We are always facing destructive activities by these [espionage]
services, and, of course, we have arrested a number of nuclear spies to block
the enemy's destructive moves," Moslehi reportedly said
been the site of many of the infections of Stuxnet, which has been traced as
far back as June 2009. The worm was discovered a year later by
security vendor VirusBlokAda when it was seen exploiting a Windows
. In the ensuing months, details of its functionality
have continued to emerge, prompting some to call it one of the most
sophisticated pieces of malware in the wild.
The worm targets industrial control systems, a fact Eric Chien,
technical director of Symantec Security Response, said
Thursday raises its threat level.
"Everything that we've looked at in the past ... really is nothing
compared to Stuxnet, because the things that we look at are attacking virtual
assets, like someone posting [something] to your Facebook wall that you didn't
want them to, or things like someone stealing an individual's credit card
number," said Chien, who co-authored a paper on Stuxnet. "When
we're talking about Stuxnet, we're talking about national critical
infrastructure. ... The code to actually sabotage the industrial control
systems is actually in Stuxnet."
Though no definite link to an author has been established, speculation has
abounded that the worm was created
by a government
for the purpose of sabotage.
Some have speculated that the worm's code provides clues to its origin.
Contained within the code is the word "myrtus," which is
considered by some to be an allusion to the Old Testament Book of Esther, which
contains a story of a thwarted attempt to destroy the Jews. Myrtus is also
known as myrtle, the Hebrew word for which is Hadassah-the birth name of
Also contained within the code, however, is the word guava, and Myrtus
is the botanical family of the guava plant.
Other potential evidence rests with Stuxnet's main installer,
which among other things checks the date and version number of the
compromised computer; decrypts, creates and installs the rootkit files and
registry keys; and injects itself into the services.exe process to infect
to a paper
(PDF) on Stuxnet by Symantec: "Export 16 [main
installer] first checks that the configuration data
is valid, after that it checks the value 'NTVDM TRACE'
in the following registry key:
"If this value is equal to 19790509 the threat will exit," the
paper states. "This is thought to be an infection marker or a 'do not in??Ãfect'
marker. If this is set correctly infection will not occur. The value appears to
be a date of May 9, 1979.
... According to Wikipedia, Habib Elghanian was executed by a firing squad in Tehran,
sending shock waves through the closely knit Iranian Jewish community. He was
the first Jew and one of the first civilians to be executed by the new Islamic
Chien cautioned, however, against reading too much into the findings,
as the worm's author may have simply placed those things there to throw
researchers off course.