Last week the New York Times reported and current and former U.S. officials confirmed that the U.S., in cooperation with Israel, initiated successful cyber attacks against Iranian targets. The targets were centrifuges employed in the Iranian nuclear program. The U.S. used a computer worm, or virus, called Stuxnet which destroyed nearly 1000 of Iran’s 6000 centrifuges.
The attack itself and the subsequent confirmation raise a host of questions. One that most intrigues me is how we will respond if and when Iran retaliates with its own cyber attack against U.S. targets. Given our dependence on computer systems for everything from credit card transactions to air traffic control do we believe that our systems are not vulnerable? Will we escalate the attacks and, if so, how? Will we try to convince ourselves and the world that our attacks are justified and noble and theirs are unjustified? Just how slippery might this slope be?