Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!

The New York Times has been running a two-part mini-series about forensic research into the characteristics of the Stuxnet computer virus.   Predictably, NYT is focused on the fact that Iran’s nuclear research program appears to have been Stuxnet’s primary target, and on the “possibility” that Israel may have authored and delivered the Stuxnet virus.

“[Stuxnet] was discovered by a Russian antivirus company [Kapersky Labs] in June [2010], after the company received complaints from Iranian customers.”

” …. [Stuxnet contained] two different attack modules … designed to run on different industrial controllers made by Siemens.  Equipment made by Siemens and its competitors is used around the globe to manage virtually all of the world’s transportation, power distribution and communications systems.

” …. [Stuxnet] was intended to induce fluctuations in the rotational speed of motors, by taking over a power device known as a frequency converter, a type of power supply that changes its output frequency to control the speed of a motor.  The worm’s code was found to attack converters made by two companies, Fararo Paya in Iran and Vacon in Finland.  It … inserts fake data, fooling [Siemens industrial control computers] into thinking that the system is running normally while the sabotage of the frequency converters is taking place.”

Lunghu has a slightly different take on the topic, and it can be summed up in two words:  Sayano-Shushenskaya.

From January to March 2009, turbine 2 was undergoing scheduled repairs and modernization.  It was the first and only turbine in the station which was equipped with a new electro-hydraulic regulator of its rotational speed supplied by the Promavtomatika company. …  The turbines of this type have a very narrow working band at high efficiency.   If this band is exceeded the turbines begin to vibrate, caused by the pulsation of water flow and water strokes.  … On the day of accident turbine 2 worked as the plant’s power output regulator and [therefore] its output power changed constantly.  The turbine often operated in powerband II mode, which is accompanied [by] pulsation and strokes of water flow.

[On 17 August 2009] a fire at the hydroelectric power station of Bratsk broke both communications and the automatic driving systems of other power plants in the region, including Sayano-Shushenskaya.   At 8:12 AM local time, turbine 2’s output power was reduced by the turbine regulator and it entered into non-recommended powerband II.  Shortly after, bolts keeping the turbine cover in place broke, and water pressure of about 20 bars (2,000 kPa) [lifted] the spinning turbine with its cover, rotor, and upper parts, destroying machinery hall installations.  Pressurized water flooded the rooms [ultimately killing 75 persons].

Casual students of history may wish to refresh their recollection concerning what sorts of issues were of intense interest to Russia, the United States, Israel and Iran at just about the same time that this tragic accident occurred.   Here’s a hint: at least two Black Sea vacations were already ruined before Sayano-Shushenskaya blew out.

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