DIGITAL AMERICA

Worms: Not just in dirt anymore

// Posted by on 05/28/2015 (2:47 AM)

Computer viruses have long been the bane of the computer user’s digital existence. Ranging from minor nuisances to multi-billion dollar damages, these “bugs” have wreaked havoc on the global infrastructure, and are usually deployed with malicious intent. For example, the Stuxnet virus, which baffled programmers the world over, as it silently slipped through unnoticed. Stuxnet, according to Time, was utilized by the American and Israeli governments in order to thwart uranium enrichment at Iranian nuclear power plants, which have long been believed to harbor clandestine atomic weapon programs.

Computer scientists  O’Murchu, Chien, and Falliere, employed by Symantic, worked around the clock in an attempt to tap into and solve the Stuxnet puzzle. Worms such as Stuxnet, which are operated with zero-day technology, require the advanced specialist study of scientists such as O’Murchu. The Stuxnet program was larger than most malware, and did not rely on image files, unlike common phishing programs. Symantec believed that the Stuxnet malware could create serious repercussions for customers of banks and utilities worldwide if it fell into the wrong hands. Thus, the firm and its researchers continued the difficult research on the malware, which used two websites disguised as soccer sites as reporting bases for information on the newly-infected computers.

The Symantec researchers discovered that the overwhelming majority of the infections were located in Iran, with very few in the United States. The Stuxnet outbreak was the first to have its epicenter in the Middle East, as opposed to all previous ones centered around the United States or South Korea, where the majority of the world’s computing activity takes place. Thus, the Symantec team believed it was the work of a government conspiracy against Iran. Similar to Edward Snowden’s leak of the secret intelligence documents, the Symantec scientists felt a duty to global computer safety outweighed any patriotic activity by letting the malware remain intact. These researchers, however, are not considered to be abetting the enemy by attacking a virus targeted for Iran, despite the potential indirect benefit to Iran’s nuclear program.

My first personal encounter with a computer virus was on my grandmother’s old Gateway desktop computer. She opened an attachment from someone she thought she knew, only to be infected with the “Happy99” worm, which appeared to be a digital fireworks show, unfortunately resulting in the demise of her beloved processor. Ever since discovering that computers, like people, can become sick, I’ve been a stickler for using anti-virus software, as well as maintaining somewhat of a “stranger-danger” philosophy when it comes to email- if you don’t know who it is from or it looks strange, don’t open it!

In the years since the incident with the Happy99 virus, my newer desktop computer was infected with a rootkit virus, a more challenging one to remove. Rootkits imitate as normal files, secretly allowing malware into the system. A specialized, yet quite expensive, program was necessary to remove the rootkit system and its virus files in my computer. One of the viruses in the file hosted files that do not reflect my personal tastes in art or computing.

 

Computer viruses, in the most basic terminology, are a form of cyber terrorism. From their origins over the primitive ARPANET (such as the Creeper) to the early 2000s I Love You virus, even to government-sponsored programs such as Stuxnet, viruses and worms have long been used to hinder the performance of computers.


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Comments:


Rosatelli said...

Hi Sarah,

I find this quote quite compelling, “Similar to Edward Snowden’s leak of the secret intelligence documents, the Symantec scientists felt a duty to global computer safety outweighed any patriotic activity by letting the malware remain intact. These researchers, however, are not considered to be abetting the enemy by attacking a virus targeted for Iran, despite the potential indirect benefit to Iran’s nuclear program.” Do you think anyone considers the Symantec workers to be traitors? What would be their argument for saying so? Whose call is to make to dismantle a top secret mission to dismantled a dangerous nuclear program? Does Symantec get to make that decision? Should it be left up to our representatives in government? Or does the private sector have more of a responsibility to protect than governments?

// 05/29/2015 at 9:25 pm

Jessie said...

Sarah,

Your knowledge of computer viruses and malware is impressive. I admit that my knowledge on the subject is very limited and I rely mostly on the same stranger-danger philosophy you define in your post. In your post you mention that one of the viruses’ hosted files that did not reflect on your personal tastes in art or computing, can you expand on what you were referring to? Was this how you were able to identify the virus?

// 05/30/2015 at 11:38 am

SarahP said...

Jesse- let’s just say the “stuff” being hosted on my computer was Not Safe For Work.

// 06/01/2015 at 12:21 am