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Iran's first nuclear power plant has suffered a serious cyber-intrusion from a sophisticated worm that infected workers' computers, and potentially plant systems.  (Source: AP)

The worm has spread to over 10,000 computers in Indonesia. Computers in the U.S. have also been infected.  (Source: Digitrain)
Attack has since spread to plants and computers in the U.S. and elsewhere, posing serious threat

It's been only a month since the activation of Iran's first nuclear power plant and there's already a major crisis concerning proliferation.  But this crisis has nothing to do with nuclear arms proliferation.  Rather, the scare has to do with the proliferation of the Stuxnet worm, a malicious computer program that has invaded the plant's computers and since spread to computers worldwide.

The viral program is very sophisticated and appears designed specifically to attack the plant.  It first was released onto workers' computers, designed to try to reach plant's control systems.  Unlike other more sophisticated attacks which appeared to be primarily geared for monitoring, this attack was designed to do damage.  It contained logic to sabotage nuclear fuel enrichment centrifuges.  The centrifuges, made by German equipment electronics giant Siemens, would be made to fail in a virtually unnoticeable way.

The Bushehr plant is located near Natanz, central-Iranian city located almost 200 miles south of the capital city of Tehran.  The plant is a joint endeavor between Iran and Russia.  While the U.S. and others have chastised Russia for its involvement, the U.S. intelligence community has asserted that it doesn't believe Iran to be currently developing nuclear weapons at the facility.

Mahmoud Jafari, project manager at the Bushehr nuclear plant is quoted in 
The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, as stating that the viral worm never achieved its goal.  Comments Mr. Jafari, "[It] has not caused any damage to major systems of the plant."

But according to international whistle-blower site 
Wikileaks, a serious nuclear accident occurred at the plant sometime before mid-June.  The site's founder, Julian Assange, wrote:

Two weeks ago, a source associated with Iran's nuclear program confidentially told WikiLeaks of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz. Natanz is the primary location of Iran's nuclear enrichment program.
WikiLeaks had reason to believe the source was credible however contact with this source was lost.
WikiLeaks would not normally mention such an incident without additional confirmation, however according to Iranian media and the BBC, today the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, has resigned under mysterious circumstances. According to these reports, the resignation was tendered around 20 days ago.

Inspectors examined the claims, but found no distinguishable traces of an accident.

A time stamp on the virus reveals that it was made in January.  What is equally remarkable to its sophistication in terms of attack behavior is the lack of sophistication when it comes to the worm's proliferation.  

If it had constrained its infections to Bushehr, it would likely not have been noticed for some time.  Instead, the worm was extremely aggressive in its infection vectors, spreading to fifteen other Siemens plants, and tens of thousands of non-plant computers worldwide.  In Iran 60,000 computers are infected.  In Indonesia, 10,000 machines are infected.  And in the United States thousands of computers are believed to be infected as well.

That creates a dangerous situation, as numerous parties, including international governments and black-hat hackers, are racing to reverse-engineer the code and exploit the infected machines.  The infected machines may not only compromise personal details, but may compromise industrial infrastructure in Iran, Indonesia, India (another infection site), and the U.S.

Melissa Hathaway, a former United States national cybersecurity coordinator, comments, "Proliferation is a real problem, and no country is prepared to deal with it.  All of these guys are scared to death. We have about 90 days to fix this before some hacker begins using it."

So who is behind the attacks?  
The New York Times quotes a former U.S. intelligence office as saying that the attack was the work of Israel’s equivalent of America’s National Security Agency, known as Unit 8200.  According to IEEE Spectrum's December issue, Israel had previously used a cyber-attack to shut off radar systems in Syria, allowing it to evaluate what it believed to be an under-construction nuclear reactor.

Regardless of who perpetrated the attack, the primary issue now is stamping it out, before it can be used for even more nefarious purposes.  Early reports were unclear about the transmission vector, but suggested it may be spreading via USB sticks and other removable media.



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RE: Why??
By UnWeave on 9/27/2010 3:30:25 PM , Rating: 2
That's what I was going to ask. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought it was odd. At first, I assumed they had some form of physical access (e.g. USB stick - still bad, but not as bad). Given the number of other plants which have been infected it seems that, at the very least, the systems are part of a network which is connected to the net, even if there isn't 'direct access' - i.e., you probably can't boot up Firefox for some pr0n from one of them.

But anyway, shouldn't this part of the system be physically isolated from everything else? The hell were they thinking?


RE: Why??
By homebredcorgi on 9/27/2010 4:55:48 PM , Rating: 2
From what I have heard, these computers were not hooked up to the internet. Which means someone would have had to put an infected USB drive into them (or some other similar situation) - further pointing out some glaring security holes in Iran's classified computer networks.

The amazing part is that this code was looking for a specific industrial configuration on the Siemens software to sabotage. It was literally written to target a specific site and specific set of computers. This indicates that whomever wrote the worm obtained access to the designs or even had someone on the inside. Again, given its very targeted attack, it was rather strange how much it proliferated - perhaps the creators did not have someone on the inside and wanted to make sure it spread as quickly as possible?

It has long been speculated that this type of attack could work, but we have never seen one in the wild. Given the sensitive nature of the industrial designs involved it would almost certainly have to be a sovereign state responsible for the worm...interesting times.


RE: Why??
By Lerianis on 9/29/2010 3:23:47 AM , Rating: 2
That is correct, these computers were not connected to the internet and someone would have had to physically come into the building and put an infected USB drive into the computer to infect it.

This doesn't show any 'glaring security holes' in Iran's classified computer networks, considering that the United States has been having a problem with this!

Which, by the way, they have had to backtrack on their 'no external USB hard drive or flash drives!' because a bunch of people, including top brass complained about it making their lives hard.


RE: Why??
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 9/29/2010 7:04:14 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Which, by the way, they have had to backtrack on their 'no external USB hard drive or flash drives!' because a bunch of people, including top brass complained about it making their lives hard.

Source?


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