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Old 01-06-12, 19:38   #1
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Default Flame?-Obama Orders Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran

Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran

From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly
sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear
enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of
cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration
and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally
became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed
it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet.
Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed
by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.

At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s
“escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether
America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts
had been fatally compromised.

“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the
president’s national security team who were in the room.

Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered
evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks
should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer
version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that
series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world,
temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at
the time to purify uranium.

This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear
program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former
American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a
range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the
effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.

These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program
was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear
weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by
18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are
more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered,
giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional

Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most
recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major
parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some
remnants of it continue.

Iran initially denied that its enrichment facilities had been hit by Stuxnet,
then said it had found the worm and contained it. Last year, the nation announced
that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali,
the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military
was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” But
there has been scant evidence that it has begun to strike back.

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons,
and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks
against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated
attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the
NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely
different type and sophistication.

It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used
cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with
computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or
sending in agents to plant explosives. The code itself is 50 times as big as the
typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the
many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford
University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the
code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was

A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another
cyberweapon called Flame that was recently discovered to have attacked the
computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But
the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials
say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the
United States was responsible for the Flame attack.

Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on
Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United
States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of
atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of
drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American
acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and
limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to
justify their own attacks.

“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said
that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon
whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that
when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.
If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and
diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military
attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.

A Bush Initiative

The impetus for Olympic Games dates from 2006, when President George W. Bush saw
few good options in dealing with Iran. At the time, America’s European allies
were divided about the cost that imposing sanctions on Iran would have on their
own economies. Having falsely accused Saddam Hussein of reconstituting his
nuclear program in Iraq, Mr. Bush had little credibility in publicly discussing
another nation’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranians seemed to sense his
vulnerability, and, frustrated by negotiations, they resumed enriching uranium at
an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three
years before.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took reporters on a tour of the plant and
described grand ambitions to install upward of 50,000 centrifuges. For a country
with only one nuclear power reactor — whose fuel comes from Russia — to say that
it needed fuel for its civilian nuclear program seemed dubious to Bush
administration officials. They feared that the fuel could be used in another way
besides providing power: to create a stockpile that could later be enriched to
bomb-grade material if the Iranians made a political decision to do so.

Hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney urged Mr. Bush
to consider a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities before they
could produce fuel suitable for a weapon. Several times, the administration
reviewed military options and concluded that they would only further inflame a
region already at war, and would have uncertain results.

For years the C.I.A. had introduced faulty parts and designs into Iran’s systems
— even tinkering with imported power supplies so that they would blow up — but
the sabotage had had relatively little effect. General James E. Cartwright, who
had established a small cyberoperation inside the United States Strategic
Command, which is responsible for many of America’s nuclear forces, joined
intelligence officials in presenting a radical new idea to Mr. Bush and his
national security team. It involved a far more sophisticated cyberweapon than the
United States had designed before.

The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant’s industrial computer controls.

That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the
Internet — called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from
the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that
command the centrifuges.

The first stage in the effort was to develop a bit of computer code called a
beacon that could be inserted into the computers, which were made by the German
company Siemens and an Iranian manufacturer, to map their operations. The idea
was to draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant, to
understand how the computers control the giant silvery centrifuges that spin at
tremendous speeds. The connections were complex, and unless every circuit was
understood, efforts to seize control of the centrifuges could fail.

Eventually the beacon would have to “phone home” — literally send a message back
to the headquarters of the National Security Agency that would describe the
structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant. Expectations for the plan
were low; one participant said the goal was simply to “throw a little sand in the
gears” and buy some time. Mr. Bush was skeptical, but lacking other options, he
authorized the effort.

Breakthrough, Aided by Israel

It took months for the beacons to do their work and report home, complete with
maps of the electronic directories of the controllers and what amounted to
blueprints of how they were connected to the centrifuges deep underground.
Then the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence
officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex
computer worm that would become the attacker from within.
The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives.
Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled

the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz
that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials
had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-
emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis
would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way
to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply
involved in every aspect of the program.

Soon the two countries had developed a complex worm that the Americans called
“the bug.” But the bug needed to be tested. So, under enormous secrecy, the
United States began building replicas of Iran’s P-1 centrifuges, an aging,
unreliable design that Iran purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani
nuclear chief who had begun selling fuel-making technology on the black market.
Fortunately for the United States, it already owned some P-1s, thanks to the
Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

When Colonel Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, he turned over
the centrifuges he had bought from the Pakistani nuclear ring, and they were
placed in storage at a weapons laboratory in Tennessee. The military and
intelligence officials overseeing Olympic Games borrowed some for what they
termed “destructive testing,” essentially building a virtual replica of Natanz,
but spreading the test over several of the Energy Department’s national
laboratories to keep even the most trusted nuclear workers from figuring out what
was afoot.

Those first small-scale tests were surprisingly successful: the bug invaded the
computers, lurking for days or weeks, before sending instructions to speed them
up or slow them down so suddenly that their delicate parts, spinning at
supersonic speeds, self-destructed. After several false starts, it worked. One
day, toward the end of Mr. Bush’s term, the rubble of a centrifuge was spread out
on the conference table in the Situation Room, proof of the potential power of a
cyberweapon. The worm was declared ready to test against the real target: Iran’s
underground enrichment plant.

“Previous cyberattacks had effects limited to other computers,” Michael V.
Hayden, the former chief of the C.I.A., said, declining to describe what he knew
of these attacks when he was in office. “This is the first attack of a major
nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction,” rather
than just slow another computer, or hack into it to steal data.
“Somebody crossed the Rubicon,” he said.

Getting the worm into Natanz, however, was no easy trick. The United States and
Israel would have to rely on engineers, maintenance workers and others — both
spies and unwitting accomplices — with physical access to the plant. “That was
our holy grail,” one of the architects of the plan said. “It turns out there is
always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their

In fact, thumb drives turned out to be critical in spreading the first variants
of the computer worm; later, more sophisticated methods were developed to deliver
the malicious code.

The first attacks were small, and when the centrifuges began spinning out of
control in 2008, the Iranians were mystified about the cause, according to
intercepts that the United States later picked up. “The thinking was that the
Iranians would blame bad parts, or bad engineering, or just incompetence,” one of
the architects of the early attack said.

The Iranians were confused partly because no two attacks were exactly alike.
Moreover, the code would lurk inside the plant for weeks, recording normal
operations; when it attacked, it sent signals to the Natanz control room
indicating that everything downstairs was operating normally. “This may have been
the most brilliant part of the code,” one American official said.

Later, word circulated through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the
Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that the Iranians had grown so distrustful of
their own instruments that they had assigned people to sit in the plant and radio
back what they saw.

“The intent was that the failures should make them feel they were stupid, which
is what happened,” the participant in the attacks said. When a few centrifuges
failed, the Iranians would close down whole “stands” that linked 164 machines,
looking for signs of sabotage in all of them. “They overreacted,” one official
said. “We soon discovered they fired people.”

Imagery recovered by nuclear inspectors from cameras at Natanz — which the
nuclear agency uses to keep track of what happens between visits — showed the
results. There was some evidence of wreckage, but it was clear that the Iranians
had also carted away centrifuges that had previously appeared to be working well.
But by the time Mr. Bush left office, no wholesale destruction had been
accomplished. Meeting with Mr. Obama in the White House days before his
inauguration, Mr. Bush urged him to preserve two classified programs, Olympic
Games and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush’s advice.

The Stuxnet Surprise

Mr. Obama came to office with an interest in cyberissues, but he had discussed
them during the campaign mostly in terms of threats to personal privacy and the
risks to infrastructure like the electrical grid and the air traffic control
system. He commissioned a major study on how to improve America’s defenses and
announced it with great fanfare in the East Room.

What he did not say then was that he was also learning the arts of cyberwar. The
architects of Olympic Games would meet him in the Situation Room, often with what
they called the “horse blanket,” a giant foldout schematic diagram of Iran’s
nuclear production facilities. Mr. Obama authorized the attacks to continue, and
every few weeks — certainly after a major attack — he would get updates and
authorize the next step. Sometimes it was a strike riskier and bolder than what
had been tried previously.

“From his first days in office, he was deep into every step in slowing the
Iranian program — the diplomacy, the sanctions, every major decision,” a senior
administration official said. “And it’s safe to say that whatever other activity
might have been under way was no exception to that rule.”

But the good luck did not last. In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new
variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm,
which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a
zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other
crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. —
to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer
when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and
connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed
to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all
around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be
clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers
told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”
Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions,
fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in
hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went
too far.”

In fact, both the Israelis and the Americans had been aiming for a particular
part of the centrifuge plant, a critical area whose loss, they had concluded,
would set the Iranians back considerably. It is unclear who introduced the
programming error.

The question facing Mr. Obama was whether the rest of Olympic Games was in
jeopardy, now that a variant of the bug was replicating itself “in the wild,”
where computer security experts can dissect it and figure out its purpose.
“I don’t think we have enough information,” Mr. Obama told the group that day,
according to the officials. But in the meantime, he ordered that the cyberattacks
continue. They were his best hope of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program
unless economic sanctions began to bite harder and reduced Iran’s oil revenues.
Within a week, another version of the bug brought down just under 1,000
centrifuges. Olympic Games was still on.

A Weapon’s Uncertain Future

American cyberattacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus of attention, as one
administration official put it, “has been overwhelmingly on one country.” There
is no reason to believe that will remain the case for long. Some officials
question why the same techniques have not been used more aggressively against
North Korea. Others see chances to disrupt Chinese military plans, forces in
Syria on the way to suppress the uprising there, and Qaeda operations around the
world. “We’ve considered a lot more attacks than we have gone ahead with,” one
former intelligence official said.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and
particularly to overusing — the weapon. In fact, no country’s infrastructure is
more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that
of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before
it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used,
secretly, against Iran.

Well now, isn't this little tidbit interesting? I thought at first this was one of those conspiracy theory websites that reported this. Turns out it was the NYT. It's been often suggested and surmised that Israel and the US were up to their pointy little ears in Stuxnet as they would be the main beneficiaries of such actions. Now it is out in the open it seems.

It also reveals why the neo-cons in office are all up in arms about cybersecurity. Again my speculation was that it seems to always be that they are concerned with protecting themselves against what they are doing elsewhere in the world and fearing retaliation over. Which once again, proves the point and thought with this article. The guilty conscience strikes again and reveals all, prior to the actual acknowledgement in the news.

I posted an article on the malware known as Flame a few days ago. Here again it is mentioned in this write up. Not much need to speculate where it came from. It's all but an admission on the authorship.

It might also be the time to point out that it seems that Obama is a sort of copycat to the previous Bush administration. Buried within that statement are all sorts of implications, both for the past and the future of this presidency. The main one is that no matter which party is in power, the inertia seems to push it right along on the path it was already set upon. This in turn indicates outlaying forces are the real guiding political directions for the nation.

For sometime, there has been continuing expressing of the possibilities of foreign powers being able to shut down US infrastructure. It now becomes very clear why these concerns are surfacing. The US itself has opened the pathway to make this possibility a reality, with the releasing of Stuxnet. While Stuxnet is complicated, within it are the seeds of how to do such infecting of the infrastructure and all that needs be done to make it happen is the understanding of how Stuxnet functions.

This article even warns of the same sort of admonishments I'm making in the comments.

These controllers that are being targeted, aren't hooked to the internet itself. Rather they are hooked to VPNs within corporate nets. The key here is that they use the VPNs to monitor and remotely shutdown when needed. A prime example of this occurs in the Gulf Of Mexico with the abandoning of oil platforms for hurricanes. They are left running and operating when they are abandoned. From remote locations, often 100 to even 300 miles away, inside the engineering centers, computers continue to monitor the functions of the platforms. Remove video cameras see the sea conditions and pass the vid feed to the remote monitoring stations. Seas are continually monitored by wave height indicators at the same time.

At any point, should out of tolerance conditions occur, or if the judgement of the senior management staff should so decide, these platforms can be shut down on command from these monitoring computers.

Nor is this setup unusual. It's old telephone technology, now obsolete for telephony but functional for industries, such as oil production, electricity generation, water pumping stations; the list is quite literally endless in it's spread as it reduces manpower on the job. Between this upgrading of equipment and the past decade of merger mania, it has driven the lay-off age.

...and now it is all at risk from the very acts the US and Israel have used to damage another country's assets.

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Old 02-06-12, 19:21   #2
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Default re: Flame?-Obama Orders Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran

Well that was a very wise decision for whichever idiot made it......to release to the Media that this was being done eh?

That is one of the problem's with the "Powers That Be" in the US, they are so media crazy and love the attention it brings, they sometimes put their own people in danger....and once again that is what they have done by allowing this info to get out.

& They have the cheek to critisize Julian Lasange!

Thanks for the report PB.
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Old 02-06-12, 20:23   #3
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Default Re: Flame?-Obama Orders Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran

This looks like `Flame`that you made a thread about before. Ive changed the title of this thread & here is your previous report on this;

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