US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran: info and implications

Our guest speaker in class today, Professor Ralph Russo, briefly discussed the US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran. With the topic of class this week being cybersecurity, I think that a deeper look into this event is warranted.

In 2009-2010, the US (in collaboration with Israel) used malware, specifically a Stuxnet worm, to invade the control systems in an Iranian nuclear plant so that it’s centrifuges would spin at incorrect rates. Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility was the specific target. This cyber-attack successfully caused major technical problems with the centrifuges at this site and stalled nuclear production in Iran.


The cyber-attack qualifies as “an act of force” using “cyber weapons” under the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, which states: “acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force” (A). This event is also widely acclaimed (by Professor Russo and other professionals) as “an act of war.”

Obama recently stated in an article in the Wall Street Journal: “cyber threat to our nation is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face” (B). On the same note, just two weeks ago, the president of Estonia stated in the New York Times: In a modern digitalized world it is possible to paralyze a country without attacking its defense forces” (C). In other words a country can virtually be brought to a halt by cyber-attack.

Clearly, the world understands the potential devastating outcomes of a cyber-attack as one of the most serious threats to a country, its economy, public health system, safety, etc. So was the US cyber-attack against Iran warranted? Are we promoting the ‘use’ of cyber-attacks by carrying them out ourselves, even if the intention of the cyber-attack against Iran was (arguably) harm reduction, disaster mitigation, or self-defense? Are we just asking for/ should we expect a strike back from Iran now that we’ve initiated this cyber-war? Professor Russo argues that we can’t really complain when Iran turns around and does something like this to us, and I have to agree with him.

Sources: A, B, C


2 responses to “US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran: info and implications

  • mattbrandeburg

    This is a dangerously oversimplified view of the events. Yes, the US government has confirmed that it created the malicious software that disabled Iran’s nuclear development processes temporarily; however, it is worth noting that these facilities were secret, illegal operations that the world community had condemned from the outset. I realize this is neither the place nor time to discuss the merits of preëmptive strike, or its justifications. I also realize this is not the time nor place to discuss the ramifications of UN resolution 1441 or what particular pieces of the “Bush doctrine” President Obama has tacitly endorsed with his administration’s policies. What this is the time and place for, is a moment for us to take a step back and admit the situation is more grey than a casus belli.

  • ohaberer

    Yeah, if the United States or Israel for that matter is operating facilities that pose an alarming, tangible threat to Iran and if transparent, would be highly condemned by the International Community, then yes, by all means Iran has the merit to retaliate. If not, as Matt said above, the situation is much too complex for us to formulate any tangible judgments.

    Either way, the United States should definitely refrain from being the agressor in the CyberAttacks, although I believe the government is much more aware of this notion than I am.

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