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Stuxnet and the New Forms of Cyberattacks

// Posted by on 02/25/2012 (2:18 PM)

After reading this article on wired.com about Stuxnet, the most sophisticated malware ever produced, I started to consider the ways in which this type of attack is novel and why it has gotten so much attention. First, the people investigating Stuxnet were shocked at what exactly was being attacked. One of the researchers, Eric Chien, said, “We were expecting something to be espionage, we were expecting something to steal credit card numbers; that’s what we deal with every single day. But we weren’t expecting this.” The shock and awe had shifted from what was being attacked or stolen to how the attacks were being implemented. Below is a TedTalk by Ralph Langner, a German researcher who was heavily involved in decoding the virus of Stuxnet:

 

 

What shocks me the most is the process of discovering what exactly Stuxnet was setting out to do: a virus that had been specifically programmed to attack only certain computers in certain areas. The article from wired.com that details where Stuxnet was prevalent along with how it was choosing which computers to infect; essentially, it proves that specific, potentially extremely harmful attacks can be waged on just a simple USB stick. Still, however, the most shocking part about the article was the way in which Stuxnet accomplished its goal-- it was a slow, deliberate attack on certain physical components of Iran’s plant. Stuxnet was not only the most sophisticated malware yet (four zero-days? two stolen certificates??), but it was performing the most sophisticated cyber attack seen yet. It was introducing a hard-to-detect virus into certain computers, controlling certain functions, so certain physical components would malfunction over time. This clearly is much more than “stealing credit card numbers.” This malware had the ability to slow down the production of nuclear weapons. It slowed the nuclear arms race. All from a few lines of code.

 

This new form of attack has caused me to re-think not only the forms of cyber attacks, but also what exactly is becoming a target of attack. Are you shocked by what Stuxnet was attacking, as well as the impressive forms of attack it employed to get there? How do you feel this new form of attack fits in with the much-discussed globalization of technology? Do you think that putting a specific virus that is meant to attack a specific computer or set of computers has opened up a new form of warfare across the world?


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