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Iran: 'Nuke spies nabbed, but not for Stuxnet'

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Iranian leaders have backtracked on earlier claims that they had arrested unnamed nuclear spies over the spread of the infamous Stuxnet worm in the country.

Intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi repeated the standard line that infections by the Stuxnet worm had been contained. Then he said that the arrest of so-called "nuclear spies" last month was nothing to do with the malware, a statement at odds with earlier ministerial pronouncements.

The highly sophisticated Stuxnet worm targets industrial plant control systems from Siemens and is capable of reprogramming or even sabotaging infected systems. Iranian officials had previously admitted that the worm had infected PCs at its highly controversial Bushehr nuclear plant - but maintain that this was nothing to do with months-long delays in bringing its reactors online.

The malware infected more computers in Indonesia and India than Iran, but that hasn't stopped Iran pointing the finger of blame for the creation of the worm towards its arch-enemy, Israel.

Independent security experts reckon Stuxnet, which uses no less than four zero-day attacks, would have taken a four-man team with access to power plant control systems for testing purposes at least half a year to develop. That suggests nation-state involvement - but anything beyond that is pure speculation. One popular theory posits that the worm was developed in Israel and introduced by Russian sub-contractors working at Bushehr, perhaps via an infected USB stick. However, there's no evidence to either prove or disprove this theory.

The main effect of the worm has come in substantiating arguments that Western countries need to do more to invest in the cyber-defence of critical infrastructure systems, an area allocated £500 million in the UK's defence spending review, despite cuts in spending in the wider economy. Naturally countries such as Britain are also developing offensive cyber-weapons too, but nobody likes to talk about that. ®

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