Stuxnet: Year One

National Public Radio notes that one year ago, German cybersecurity expert Ralph Langner announced that he had found Stuxnet, a computer worm designed to sabotage a nuclear facility in Iran. It was the most sophisticated worm Langner had ever seen.

The German cybersecurity expert warns that U.S. utility companies are not yet prepared to deal with the threat presented by the Stuxnet computer worm, which he says the U.S. developed.

In the summer of 2010, Langner and his partners went to work analyzing a malicious software program that was turning up in some equipment. What they found in Stuxnet left them flabbergasted.

“I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and what we saw in the lab when analyzing Stuxnet was far beyond everything we had ever imagined,” Langner says.

It was a worm that could burrow its way into an industrial control system, the kind of system used in power plants, refineries and nuclear stations.

Amazingly, it ignored everything it found except the one piece of equipment it was seeking; when the worm reached its target, it would destroy it.

Stuxnet includes a highly specialized malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that are configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes.

Langner also realized after analyzing the Stuxnet code that it was designed to disable a particular nuclear facility in Iran.

The sophistication of the worm, plus the fact that the designer had inside intelligence on the Iranian facility, led Langner to conclude that the United States had developed Stuxnet, possibly with the help of Israeli intelligence.

In a TED Talk recorded in February 2011, Langner stated that, “My opinion is that the Mossad is involved but that the leading force is not Israel. The leading force behind Stuxnet is the cyber superpower – there is only one; and that’s the United States.”

In a recent speech at the Brookings Institution, he also made the bigger point that having developed Stuxnet as a computer weapon, the United States has in effect introduced it into the world’s cyber-arsenal.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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