Article: ‘StuxNet’ How This Computer Virus Worked

Posted: November 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

When the Stuxnet super-virus was first identified in June by a Belarus security firm, cyber-security experts across the globe worried that the infection could have a global effect. But, as software engineers continue to study lines of code in the sophisticated malware, it’s become clear to most that Stuxnet was designed as a precision weapon with a single target in mind: Iran’s nuclear program. Yet, while the virus seems to have been successful in disrupting Iran’s nuclear ambitions for the time being, Stuxnet also represents a new kind of computer virus, one that some experts fear will be used to attack power plants and industrial facilities throughout the world. If terrorists were to get their hands on Stuxnet-like technology before the West develops effective countermeasures, the results could be catastrophic.

Computer security expert Ralph Langner described Stuxnet as being akin to “the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield.” Unlike most viruses, Stuxnet was not designed to infiltrate a network solely through the internet. The computers used in Iran’s nuclear program are not connected to the internet, so that would have been a futile exercise. Instead, Stuxnet hopped from computer to computer by any means possible, always looking for its target. Experts suspect that an unsuspecting individual involved with Iran’s nuclear program eventually introduced the virus via an ordinary flash drive. Once Stuxnet found that it was where it was supposed to be, the virus went to work.

A typical virus targets a computer, almost always a PC. Stuxnet went after the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) that controlled the thousands of centrifuges Iran installed to enrich uranium at its Natanz facility. The virus not only fooled the PLC into rapidly changing the speed of the centrifuges, it also prevented the PLC from reporting the change in speeds and it stopped the PLC from triggering any alarms. Operators were surely puzzled, for their control panels told them everything was running normally, but centrifuge after centrifuge was being wrecked by the severe changes in rotation speed. The result, many experts believe, is that thousands of the centrifuges were damaged over the course of the year that Stuxnet did its dirty work, undetected by anyone in Iran. These were high quality targets, for Iran needs centrifuges to refine the low grade uranium used for fuel into the high concentration, weapons-grade uranium.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s