A complex computer worm capable of seizing control of industrial plants has affected the personal computers of staff working at Iran's first nuclear power station weeks before the facility is to go online, the official news agency reported Sunday.
The project manager at the Bushehr nuclear plant, Mahmoud Jafari, said a team is trying to remove the malware from several affected computers, though it "has not caused any damage to major systems of the plant," the IRNA news agency reported.
It was the first sign that the malicious computer code, dubbed Stuxnet, which has spread to many industries in Iran, has also affected equipment linked to the country's nuclear program, which is at the core of the dispute between Tehran and Western powers like the United States.
Experts in Germany discovered the worm in July, and it has since shown up in a number of attacks — primarily in Iran, Indonesia, India and the U.S.
The malware is capable of taking over systems that control the inner workings of industrial plants.
In a sign of the high-level concern in Iran, experts from the country's nuclear agency met last week to discuss ways of fighting the worm.
The infection of several computers belonging to workers at Bushehr will not affect plans to bring the plant online in October, Jafari was quoted as saying.
The Russian-built plant will be internationally supervised, but world powers are concerned that Iran wants to use other aspects of its civil nuclear power program as a cover for making weapons. Of highest concern to world powers is Iran's main uranium enrichment facility in the city of Natanz.
Iran, which denies having any nuclear weapons ambitions, says it only wants to enrich uranium to the lower levels needed for producing fuel for power plants. At higher levels of processing, the material can also be used in nuclear warheads.
The destructive Stuxnet worm has surprised experts because it is the first one specifically created to take over industrial control systems, rather than just steal or manipulate data.
The United States is also tracking the worm, and the Department of Homeland Security is building specialized teams that can respond quickly to cyber emergencies at industrial facilities across the country.
On Saturday, Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported that the malware had spread throughout Iran, but did not name specific sites affected.