Report strengthens suspicions that Stuxnet harmed Iran’s nuke plant

By Kim Zetter

A new report appears to add fuel to suspicions that the Stuxnet superworm was responsible for sabotaging centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plant in Iran.

The report, released Thursday by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), indicates that commands in the Stuxnet code intended to increase the frequency of devices targeted by the malware match exactly several frequencies at which rotors in centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant are designed to operate optimally. Failure to operate at those frequencies leave them at risk of breaking down and flying apart.

The frequencies of the Natanz rotors were apparently not a secret and were disclosed to ISIS in mid-2008 — the earliest samples of Stuxnet code found so far date back to June 2009, a year after ISIS learned about the frequencies. They were disclosed to ISIS by “an official from a government that closely tracks Iran’s centrifuge program.”

The unnamed government official told ISIS that the nominal frequency for the IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz was 1064Hz, but that Iran kept the actual frequency of the centrifuges lower to reduce breakage. According to another source, Iran often ran its centrifuges at 1007Hz.

The information would have been gold to someone looking to sabotage the centrifuges since, as ISIS notes, it provided both confirmation that Iran’s centrifuges were prone to an unusual amount of breakage and that they were subject to breakage at a specific frequency of rotation.

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