The Stuxnet Virus Essay
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Historic data shows that Iran accounted for almost sixty percent of the early infections. According to Siemens, 15 of its customers were identified as having detected the worm on their systems as of Sept. 14. Stuxnet used stolen digital certificates from Realtek Semiconductor and JMicron Technology to legitimately slip through and hide. The certificates also helped keep Stuxnet under the radar. 1. 1 Why are all the fingers pointing to the United States and Israel? Most cyber security experts who have researched this complex attack call it a joint U.
Israeli operation, which may have also included Germany and Great Britain. It is also a well known fact which, incidentally, has not been denied by either the US. or Israel, that Israeli intelligence tested aspects of the worm using centrifuges identical to Iran’s at Israel’s Dimona complex. Even Siemens the German company cooperated with Idaho National Laboratories in the US to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world. Not too long afterwards, those very vulnerabilities were exploited by Stuxnet. . Why a Cyber Attack? Cyber warfare requires intellect not military might and a country does not have to be a military superpower to wage a cyber attack. Cyber attack tracks are much easier to cover and are easily attributable to another entity. While cyber attacks are only recently been declared by our military and political leadership as acts of war, compared to an actual physical military attack on another country life can go on as usual for most of the citizens on both sides of the conflict without the slightest idea that their country is at war.
It does not cost billions of dollars to run or manage and is hardly a long-term commitment of hundreds of thousands of troops and the logistics to support them and their equipment at the front lines. In case of Iran, a cyber attack was the most viable option available to global powers because the Iranian regime did not hesitate to make threats against the United States and Israel should it have been attacked militarily to make it stop trying to produce nuclear weapons. 2. 1 What exactly is Stuxnet designed to do? Graphic: Courtesy of The New York Times, January 15, 2011
Stuxnet is the first malware of its type designed to cross over the cyber – industrial divide and attacking critical infrastructure like power stations and electricity grids. On 26 September 2010, Iran’s state news agency reported that computers at its Bushehr nuclear power plant had been infected. The New York Times article, Israeli Test on Worm called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay, describes the complex function of Stuxnet in very simple terms: “One part of the program is designed to lie dormant for long periods, and then speed up the machines so that the spinning rotors in the centrifuges wobble and then destroy themselves.
Another part, called a “man in the middle” in the computer world, sends out those false sensor signals to make the system believe everything is running smoothly. That prevents a safety system from kicking in, which would shut down the plant before it could self-destruct. ” The same article further quotes Ralph Langer, widely credited for having solved Stuxnet, as saying: “Code analysis makes it clear hat Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept,” and later saying “It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style. ” Stuxnet was designed to seek out its target, cripple it beyond repair without causing any collateral damage; stay lurking in the shadows to continue to strike, all without leaving any conclusive evidence of who sent it on its mission in the first place. Needless to say, it succeeded in its mission. 2. 2 How effective was Stuxnet and why?
To sit remotely, thousands of miles away and receive an email update from your smart malware that it has disabled your enemy’s commercial power grid says something about the power and effectiveness of this new weapon of cyber warfare. By most accounts and estimates damage from the Stuxnet virus has apparently set back the Iranian nuclear program by at least two years. This makes the virus as effective as a military strike, perhaps even more; all this without loss of life, collateral damage, or risk of a full-blown war. 3.
History and future of nation state cyber warfare According to the Council on Foreign Relations, although few countries beyond the well-known players like China, Russia, and Israel and a handful of others have historically possessed the capability to launch a full scale cyber attack along the lines of the Stuxnet attack, over one hundred countries have begun to organize cyber warfare units. (Masters, 2011, sec. 2) Across the world, countries are either engaged in cyber battles with their arch enemies or gearing up to bolster their defenses against cyber warfare.