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US Failed at Planting Stuxnet-Style Computer Bug in N. Korea Nuke Program

© Flickr / Roman HarakDemocratic People's Republic of Korea flags fly in the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea flags fly in the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang. - Sputnik International
The United States unleashed a version of the Stuxnet computer virus five years ago in an unsuccessful attack on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, people familiar with the covert campaign said.

The operation began at the same time as a successful US-Israeli joint effort in which the Stuxnet virus was deployed to destroy a thousand or more Iranian centrifuges that were enriching uranium, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Iran and North Korea were engaged in behind-the-scenes attempts to work on a nuclear weapons program. However, an official source from the Iranian Embassy in France dismissed the claim, according to Iranian News Agency IRNA. - Sputnik International
Report About Iran, N Korea Nuclear Cooperation False

For the attack against North Korea's nuclear program, Stuxnet's developers produced a related virus that would be activated when it encountered Korean-language settings on an infected machine, one US intelligence source told Reuters.

US agents, however, were unable to access the core machines that ran Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, said another source, a former high-ranking intelligence official who was briefed on the program.

As one of the most insular countries in the world, North Korea's utter secrecy, as well as the extreme isolation of its communications systems, foiled the National Security Agency-led campaign, the official told Reuters.

North Korea's communications networks are similarly isolated. One needs police permission just to own a computer, and the open Internet is unknown except to a tiny elite. Furthermore, the country has one main conduit for Internet connections to the outside world, through China, Reuters reported.

North Korean military hackers are capable of attacks on power plants and banks, and could severely destroy infrastructure, as well as kill people, a prominent North Korean defector and rights activist said Friday. - Sputnik International
N Korea Military Hackers Could Launch Deadly Attacks – Prominent Dissident

Iran, on the other hand, engages in widespread Internet use and had interactions with companies from around the globe.

Experts who spoke with Reuters said there are similarities between North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs, and the two countries continue to collaborate on military technology. Because of that overlap, the NSA would not have had to modify Stuxnet much to make it capable of destroying centrifuges in North Korea.

Despite the subtle differences between the programs, the NSA attack was thwarted by the inability to infiltrate North Korea's program in the first place.

David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security and an authority on North Korea's nuclear program, told Reuters that US hackers probably tried to get to North Korea by compromising technology suppliers from Iran, Pakistan or China.

As for the successful attack on Iran, a leading theory is that Stuxnet was placed by a sophisticated espionage program developed by a team close to the virus' authors, known as the Equation Group.

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