Stuxnet: Cyber Weapon of Mass Destruction

Stuxnet I’m sure over the past year you may have accidentally stumbled across the word Stuxnet, it is technically a simple computer virus that has started infecting Microsoft Windows computers since July 2010, I too heard some reports of the virus, but as usual shrugged it aside as just another scare, little did I worry any any further until I heard Ralph Langner speak about it at TED 2011 Cracking Stuxnet, a 21st-century cyber weapon. Only recently after reading a blog post by Amit Agarwal who shared an animated documentary on the Stuxnet Virus prepared by ABC1 Australia on Jun 8th 2011, that made me realize the implications of this mere virus to have the devastation power of becoming a Cyber Weapon of Mass Destruction, im not talking sci-fi, this weapon is being used, carried around on hundreds, thousands and millions of USB’s with the potential force of causing a meltdown in any [or possibly a certain series] of nuclear power plant around the globe.

Stuxnet How it spreadsLets start with a brief explanationStuxnet is a Windows worm virus spreading via USB drives once inside an organization, it self propagates by copying itself to network shares and other USB drives for further infection once it infects the system it hides itself with a rootkit and sees if the infected computer is connected to a Siemens Simatic (Step7) factory system and sends particular commands to modify PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers, i.e. the boxes that actually control the machinery) [centrifuges in nuclear power plants]

Take a moment to watch the animated documentary prepared by Australia ABC1 uploaded on Youtube on 8th June 2011

Then invest another 10 minutes to watch Ralph explaining the technicalities of Stuxnet and its implications on being able to create a perfect cyber weapon of mass destruction. Be sure to watch his last Q & A with Chris Anderson where he shares his suspicion as to who is involved in all this

Ralph’s final Q&A with Chris Anderson sums up everything as to who might be responsible for all this

Chris Anderson: I’ve got a question. Ralph, it’s been quite widely reported that people assume that Mossad is the main entity behind this. Is that your opinion?

Ralph Langner: Okay, you really want to hear that? My opinion is that the Mossad is involved, but that the leading force is not Israel. So the leading force behind that is the cyber superpower. There is only one, and that’s the United States — fortunately, fortunately. Because otherwise, our problems would even be bigger.

Now, imagine this, stuxnet has already been making its rounds since July 2010 – Sympantec has reported that over 58% computers in Iran, 8% comupters in India, 1.5% computers in the US and 1.2% computes in Pakistan are already infected with Stuxnet, to have already infected the Natanz Nuclear powerplant and the Bushehr nuclear powerplant in Iran in the last 6 months .

New York Times Jan 15, 2011: The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program. Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own. Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

… Perhaps the most secretive part of the Stuxnet story centers on how the theory of cyberdestruction was tested on enrichment machines to make sure the malicious software did its intended job. The account starts in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, the Dutch designed a tall, thin machine for enriching uranium. As is well known, A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for the Dutch, stole the design and in 1976 fled to Pakistan. The resulting machine, known as the P-1, for Pakistan’s first-generation centrifuge, helped the country get the bomb. And when Dr. Khan later founded an atomic black market, he illegally sold P-1’s to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

When Ralph Langher quips – Fortunately, this weapon is in the safe hands of the USA I shudder to think how naive Ralph might actually be to assume the self righteousness of the Americans. America since the end of the cold-war has assumed the role of superpower savior of the world and has been behaving like a trigger happy gun-totting cowboy ready to shoot anything & everything that so much as to even looks cross-eyed back at them. Repeatedly they have shown irresponsibility in the (mis)use of power and for them to not play around with this fun new toy is like holding a vintage bottle of vine in front of a deranged alcoholic. There shall be no stopping its “testing”

In terms of Pakistan, no longer do we have to worry about some covert CIA mission to come into our country and hijack our nuclear assets but instead the next news we shall most likely hear would be of a [god forbid] nuclear “accidental” meltdown.

Welcome to the new world of Weapons of Mass Destruction brought to you by the Americans and the Israelis



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3 responses to “Stuxnet: Cyber Weapon of Mass Destruction”

  1. Adnan Avatar

    Be sure to remember that Stuxnet started its work in 2008. Until 2010, no one knew. And then perhaps the creators felt that it had done its job, and now was a good time for a little drum beating. Iran was 'told' about the virus, they never discovered what went wrong. If a weapon like this is going to be used again, its going to be just as secretive, and surprising.

    Also, the virus looks for a specific Step-7 machine, and as such its harmless/ dormant sitting in any other machine. (But now its open source, and who knows when Stuxnet 2 might replace Stuxnet 1 thruogh auto update).

  2. The Forbidden Fruit Avatar

    Deadly! I hope it spares mac though cause that's what I depend on.

  3. technology pakistan Avatar

    This what i say it Evil genius, the next decay wars will be cyber war or a tool that will be used in the next decay wars.