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How Stuxnet cyber weapon targeted Iran nuclear plant

Researchers from California and Germany dove into the Stuxnet code and found it sought out specialized components used in Iran nuclear centrifuges – and could cause them to explode.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment facility outside Tehran in April 2008.

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Stuxnet, the world's first known “cyber missile,” was designed to sabotage special power supplies used almost exclusively in nuclear fuel-refining centrifuge systems, researchers studying its code have revealed. The discovery is another puzzle piece experts say points to Iran's nuclear centrifuge plants as the likely target.

While the discovery may seem just another bit of circumstantial evidence, it is a critical one that appears to all but answer a central mystery surrounding Stuxnet: What was its target?

Stuxnet was discovered in June by a Belarus antivirus company, and its unique ability to control industrial processes was uncovered by US researchers in July. But its true role as the world's first publicly known cyber super weapon – designed to cross the digital divide and destroy a very specific target in the real world – was only revealed in September.

Even then, the target was mostly an informed guess. Was Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant or its nuclear centrifuge fuel-refining plant at Natanz the target, as some suggested? Or was it something quite different, like the big Indian-made satellite that failed dramatically in July?

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