Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/19/iaea_cellphone_tampering_probe/

Iran accused of hacking nuke inspectors' phones, PCs

'Unusual events' suggest tampering

By Dan Goodin

Posted in Government, 19th May 2011 00:41 GMT

United Nations nuclear officials are investigating reports that Iranian spies may have hacked agency phones and laptops that were left unattended during a recent inspection of that country's uranium enrichment facilities, the Associated Press reported.

The news agency cited three unnamed diplomats who said the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency reported "unusual events" that suggested outsiders had tampered with their electronic equipment. The unspecified events happened during the first quarter of this year while the inspectors were touring Iranian facilities, it said.

Inspectors aren't permitted to take their devices with them during inspections, so they typically leave them in hotel rooms. Strict security measures require unattended cellphones and computers to be placed in seamless paper envelopes that are sealed and have writing across the seal and envelope to flag any unauthorized opening.

The diplomats said the Iranians had found ways to bypass the security measures but didn't provide further details.

Olli Heinonen, who resigned last year as the IAEA's deputy director general in charge of investigating Iran's nuclear program, said data stored on laptops is encrypted and that little sensitive material is stored on phones. He speculated that any attempt to access the equipment might have been done in an attempt to plant malware that would infect the agency’s computer networks once the gear was connected.

Iran has been subjected to nuclear agency inspections for almost a decade. Tehran says its nuclear activities are aimed solely at peaceful purposes, but some countries have claimed the real purpose of the enrichment program is to develop a nuclear warhead.

Five industrial plants inside Iran were disrupted by the Stuxnet worm in 2009 and 2010 in an attempt to disrupt the enrichment program by sabotaging its centrifuge arrays, Symantec reported recently. A senior Iranian commander has said that Iran was hit by a second piece of malware, but so far there are no independent research to support that claim.

The AP report is here. ®