Is the Stuxnet computer malworm back on the warpath in Iran?
Exhaustive investigations into the deadly explosion last Saturday, Nov. 12 of the Sejil-2 ballistic missile at the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Alghadir base point increasingly to a technical fault originating in the computer system controlling the missile and not the missile itself. The head of Iran's ballistic missile program Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam was among the 36 officers killed in the blast which rocked Tehran 46 kilometers away.
(Tehran reported 17 deaths although 36 funerals took place.)
Since the disaster, experts have run tests on missiles of the same type as Sejil 2 and on their launching mechanisms.
debkafile's military and Iranian sources disclose three pieces of information coming out of the early IRGC probe:
1. Maj. Gen. Moghaddam had gathered Iran's top missile experts around the Sejil 2 to show them a new type of warhead which could also carry a nuclear payload. No experiment was planned. The experts were shown the new device and asked for their comments.
2. Moghaddam presented the new warhead through a computer simulation attached to the missile. His presentation was watched on a big screen. The missile exploded upon an order from the computer.
The warhead blew first; the solid fuel in its engines next, so explaining the two consecutive bangs across Tehran and the early impression of two explosions, the first more powerful than the second, occurring at the huge 52 sq. kilometer complex of Alghadir.
3. Because none of the missile experts survived and all the equipment and structures pulverized within a half-kilometer radius of the explosion, the investigators had no witnesses and hardly any physical evidence to work from.
Iranian intelligence heads entertain two initial theories to account for the sudden calamity: a) that Western intelligence service or the Israeli Mossad managed to plant a technician among the missile program's personnel and he signaled the computer to order the missile to explode; or b), a theory which they find more plausible, that the computer controlling the missile was infected with the Stuxnet virus which misdirected the missile into blowing without anyone present noticing anything amiss until it was too late.
It is the second theory which has got Iran's leaders really worried because it means that, in the middle of spiraling tension with the United States and Israel or their nuclear weapons program, their entire Shahab 3 and Sejil 2 ballistic missile arsenal is infected and out of commission until minute tests are completed. Western intelligence sources told debkafile that Iran's supreme armed forces chief Gen. Hassan Firouz-Abadi was playing for time when he announced this week that the explosion had "only delayed by two weeks the manufacturing of an experimental product by the Revolutionary Guards which could be a strong fist in the face of arrogance (the United States) and the occupying regime (Israel)."
Iran needs time to thoroughly investigate the causes of the fatal explosion and convince everyone that the computer systems controlling its missiles of the Stuxnet malworm will be cleansed and running in no time just like the Natanz uranium enrichment installation and Bushehr atomic reactor which were decontaminated between June and September 2010.
If indeed Stuxnet is back, the cleanup this time would take several months, according to Western experts - certainly longer than the two weeks estimated by Gen. Firouz-Abadi.
Those experts also rebut the contention of certain Western and Russian computer pros that Stuxnet and another virus called Duqu are linked.
The head of Iran's civil defense program Gholamreza Jalali said this week that the fight against Duqu is "in its initial phase" and the final report "which says which organizations the virus has spread to and what its impacts are has not been complete yet. All the organizations and centers that could be susceptible to being contaminated are under control."