Stuxnet: Inspiration for Future Hacking, Both Good and Bad

// Posted by on 02/28/2012 (12:09 PM)

After examining the Stuxnet case I think it leaves a lot of questions unanswered for the future. Clearly, there is a new realm of warfare that can be used with hacking. In the case of Stuxnet it is something that American’s would view as positive because it’s goal was to shut down a nuclear weapons plant. The intriguing thing about this is the level of anonymity the creator/creators of the virus were able to achieve. This makes it easier for internal personal to revolt against the systems without being caught, the way protestors, demonstrations and riots have. While there is no evidence that someone from within the plant designed the virus, it is clear that the person who did had to know specific details about the location and daily processes in order to make it so effective.

Knowledge about code writing and programming is being disseminated across several cultural barriers. In the past this time of formal knowledge was not shared across social and geographical barriers as much, but with the prevalence of the online community this is now possible, as Saskia Sassen has explained. This is making these types of hacking skills readily available to more people, allowing for more types of internal revolt. While this seems inspirational, especially in the context of bringing down nuclear war lords, it is also scary.

One internal threat that I have been thinking about revolves around the upcoming elections. Much of today’s news focuses on the upcoming republican primary elections and the future presidential election. I have been thinking about the election process itself and how easily a hacker could infiltrate the system now that we are moving to 100% e-votes. In this case technology and hacking would serve as a threat to our democratic system. Thad Hall, a professor of political science at CalTech, researches e-voting and its influence on elections. In his book, Electron Elections: The Perils and Promises of Digital Democracy, he covers the pros and cons to e-voting. Overall, he appears to support e-voting as it increases the amount of access people have to voting booths and decreases costs. At the same time he does warn the public that it is possible for one person, to single handedly alter the elections if they were able to hack into the system and manipulate votes.

With Stuxnet as a former example, we can see how hard it is to trace hackers when the virus they create are complex enough. If a hacker is smart enough he/she can prepare their code with tricks to keep spyware from detecting them. In this world where we are transferring our entire lives to an online system are we more vulnerable than we were before in the paper world?

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Bridget said...

I was very intrigued by Natalie’s prospect of the use of hacking in the election voting processes, and more broadly the threat of transforming our lives to a completely electronic, online system. With growing knowledge of the sophistication and advanced capabilities internet hacking, with cases such as Stuxnet and the recent activity of Anonymous, I feel politicians are becoming very in-tune to the dangers the internet now subjects itself to. As with past elections, I will not be surprised to see many “recounts” in states, or even entire “re-votes” complete with “old-fashioned,” paper ballots.

In response to Natalie’s larger question, I too was contemplating this looming electronic threat the other day. This summer will be my second interning in the event-planning/marketing department of an energy insurance company. While event planning is an industry that is rapidly advancing with technology, via the use of iPads and other electronic interfaces in conferences and events, my boss constantly reminds me the importance of having an original, paper copy of EVERYTHING. While a binder of every event detail can be bulky, eco-UNfriendly, and cumbersome, she always thinks of the worst situations that could possibly arise. What if the iPad app. to run the event freaks out, what if internet is lost or spotty? Then a paper copy is necessary. So while we are constantly moving towards a world dominated by the internet and technology, I tend to think of the consequences, and always see backup, hard copies of practically everything essential in our lives.

// 02/29/2012 at 9:20 pm