On Tuesday's The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert, assisted by ABC correspondent Christiane Amanpour, sat down with cyberwar expert David Albright to discuss the Stuxnet computer worm that paralyzed Iran's nuclear program in 2010.
The New York Times calls Stuxnet "the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed" and reports that the worm "wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges."
Albright, who founded the Institute For Science and International Security, described Stuxnet's destructive and elusive nature to the Colbert audience. "It was not a knockout punch by any means," Albright said, "but it certainly surprised the Iranians, set them back, [and] it's caused some serious damage."
No one knows for certain who was responsible for embedding the Stuxnet worm into the Iranian industrial computers, but Albright indicated that intelligence agents could have been behind the attack. "The biggest suspects are Israel and the United States, maybe with a little German help," he said.
By now, Iran's affected industrial facilities have recovered, but no one has taken credit for planting the worm. Why not? "It's an act of war," stated Albright.
"Is it really, though?" asked Colbert. "Is it an act of war when a Nigerian prince tries to get me to send him my bank account information?"
Perhaps, Albright suggested, if the worm had caused more damage, the Iranians may have treated Stuxnet as an act of war. Colbert, apparently stumped, admitted that this isn't his area of expertise. "This is a rare example of a subject I don't know much about and a region I don't know much about. I wish I had a more intelligent question to ask you," he said, before calling Christiane Amanpour to his side to continue the interview for him (although Colbert attempted to pretend he was the one asking Amanpour's questions).
Amanpour asked Albright whether Stuxnet was an act of war and, if so, what might the consequence be for a country like the United States. Albright replied:
First shot was Stuxnet. What's the second shot? What are the Iranians going to do? Are they going to launch a cyber attack against us? We're very vulnerable. We have a lot of industrial facilities that are not well protected that could be attacked in some kind of cyber attack by a country like Iran. [...] Maybe this is better than any military strike. No one died. [...] But we may get attacked too. We need to think about that.
See Stephen Colbert and Christiane Amanpour interview David Albright in the video (below).