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Iran's nuclear agency trying to stop computer worm capable of seizing control of power plants

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's nuclear agency is trying to combat a complex computer worm that has affected industrial sites throughout the country and is capable of taking over power plants, Iranian media reports said.

Experts from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran met this week to discuss how to remove the malicious computer code, or worm, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Friday.

The computer worm, dubbed Stuxnet, can take over systems that control the inner workings of industrial plants. 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 ISNA report said the malware had spread throughout Iran, but did not name specific sites affected. Foreign media reports have speculated the worm was aimed at disrupting Iran's first nuclear power plant, which is to go online in October in the southern port city of Bushehr.

Iranian newspapers have reported on the computer worm hitting industries around the country in recent weeks, without giving details. Friday's report also did not mention Bushehr.

The Russian-built plant will be internationally supervised, but world powers remain concerned that Iran wants to use its civil nuclear power program as a cover for making weapons.

Iran denies such an aim and says its nuclear work is solely for peaceful purposes.

While there have been no reports of damage or disruption at any Iranian nuclear facilities, Tuesday's meeting signaled a high level of concern about the worm among Iran's nuclear officials.

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.