FBI Opens Investigation into Stuxnet Attack Leaks

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Headlines

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now probing the source of recently leaked information regarding covert cyber operations conducted by the U.S. government.

Last week New York Times' writer David Sanger published a piece detailing the government's use of a sophisticated cyber weapon known as Stuxnet, which emerged in 2010.

Stuxnet is a complex virus that infected systems which provide operations control for Iranian production networks, and was most likely produced to stifle Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Stuxnet targeted Siemens Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and is thought to have caused severe damage to equipment at Iranian uranium enrichment facilities, setting back the nation's weapons program by as much as several years.

Stuxnet is largely considered to be a game changer in the world of information security, as the infection did not merely cause problems with the tainted systems, but actually affected kinetic damage on the equipment those systems controlled.

The modular nature of the design behind Stuxnet and its data stealing cousins Duqu and Flame could mean that new variations of the viruses tailored to target critical components of other systems could already be in development.

Senator John McCain of Arizona suggested that the leaks may have been intentional on the part of the White House in "an attempt to further the president's political ambitions for the sake of his re-election at the expense of our national security."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest rebutted the speculation, stating "It's classified for a reason, because publicizing that information would pose a significant threat to national security."

Sanger also dismissed McCain's assertion, saying "I spent a year working the story from the bottom up, and then went to the administration and told them what I had. Then they had to make some decisions about how much they wanted to talk about it…I'm sure the political side of the White House probably likes reading about the president acting with drones and cyber and so forth. National-security side has got very mixed emotions about it because these are classified programs."

In late May, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disclosed news that U.S. cyber operatives had recently hacked pro al-Qaeda propaganda websites in Yemen.

The operation focused on changing violently anti-American content by injecting data related to the terrorist organization's crimes again Yemeni citizens, including death tolls.

The operation was initiated by the State Department as part of a multi-agency counter-terrorism strategy aimed at disrupting al-Qaeda's online recruitment and propaganda efforts.

The targets were websites controlled by the terrorist faction Yemen’s al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who has recently stepped up anti-American propaganda and online recruitment efforts.

The disclosure, though not on par with the leaking of the Stuxnet attacks, was nonetheless unusual. For the most part, the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command usually carries out cyber offensives, though they are rarely acknowledged publicly.

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