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Source code could be adapted to break factories, power grids, the sewage system, and other critical utilities

For as much as the U.S. is maligned for being oft victimized by internet aggressors -- some of whom are mere high school age children -- the nation is believed to have conducted one very audacious and surprising effective (to an extent) cyber black ops in history.

I. StuxNet -- The U.S.'s Most Danger Cyber "Black Op"

In June 2010, security experts found a new type of worm -- the phrase commonly used to refer to a self-spreading malicious computer program.  They dubbed it "Stuxnet".

But unlike most worms, which try to accumulate a stockpile of infected machines for spamming, Bitcoin mining, or distributed denial of service purposes, Stuxnet was disinterested in doing anything malicious to most of the machines it was infecting.  Rather, it just wanted to spread, inching towards its true target -- Iran.

In fact, it was aimed at a very specific target in Iran -- the nation's secretive nuclear refining facilities.  And after infecting over 60,000 personal computers in Iran, it reached the facilities.

Iran nuclear facilities
The U.S. and Israeli reportedly used a computer virus to sabotage Iran's growing nuclear program -- a halfway successful effort that did wreak some havoc at Iran's processing facilities. [Image Source: CBS]

In the summer of 2010 it spun hundreds of centrifuges -- produced by German electronics giant Siemens -- to their breaking points.  It was a major setback for Iran's nuclear program.  Unsurprisingly Iran -- which insists that its nuclear program was intended for peaceful and not weapons-making purposes -- was quick to lash out at "Western spies" for the sabotage effort.

But details that have emerged since have proved that their is likely truth in those claims, as evidence points to the U.S. and Israeli jointly developing the malware, possibly with other allies.

II. Mission Success?  Or a Darker Reality?

Stuxnet seemed a very effective attack -- even if the eventual implication of U.S. and Israeli involvement was a public relation setback for the alleged authors.  But ultimately, it did not succeed in permanently destroying Iran's nuclear program.  Today the U.S. believes that Iran not only has nuclear power -- it is thought to be close to possessing one or more nuclear weapons.

Computer worm
The attack failed to stop Iran's nuclear efforts.  Worse yet, researchers fear the worm's source could be turned against its authors. [Image Source: TechTear]

And Iran -- the greatest tech power in the Middle East outside of Israel -- showed itself to be growing increasingly sophisticated in digital efforts, downing a U.S. unmanned drone in a recent high-profile embarrassment.  (President Obama requested the drone be returned, Iran mocked him by sending toy replicas.)

And aside from not truly achieving its intended long-term effect, the decision to release Stuxnet may have much more dire consequences.  The source code for the worm has recently been decompiled and is floating around on hacker sites, according to a new 60 Minutes report by CBS Corp. (CBS).

III. War 2.0: U.S. May See Its Own Source Code Turned Against it

In its primetime special, CBS reporters argue that releasing the worm may have been akin to Pandora of Greek mythology opening a box that let loose chaos and destruction into her world.  The report states that various groups ranging from independent malicious hackers to white hat security researchers to foreign intelligence agencies are all racing to adapt the highly virulent, highly successful worm for use in new attacks.

Such attacks could destroy machinery at sewage plants, electrical grid locations, traffic signals, or other applications.  Such critical infrastructure often is air-gapped, but is sensitive to connections during routine maintenance.  As the air-gapping (not having a physical internet connection to the outside world) gives a traditional sense of security, these types of devices may have less robust security mechanisms, and hence be more vulnerable to mechanical or electrical overdriving.

Only time will tell whether a Stuxnet variant will come back to bite the U.S.  But given the success of AnonymousLulzSec, and other hacker collectives in openly defying and attacking the U.S. government digitally, it's not infeasible to imagine such groups looking to cripple vital U.S. infrastructure in the near future.  Or alternatively, hostile nations like Iran or North Korea could return fire, using the U.S. and Israel's own code against them.

Sources: CBS [1], [2]

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RE: easy to fix eh
By Argon18 on 3/5/2012 6:40:02 PM , Rating: -1
You meant it in jest, but in reality, it's funny because it's true. After dealing with virus after virus on my Parent's PC's, I switched them both to Mac's. That was in 2006. Fast forward six years, here in 2012, they are 100% virus free, and have been since the switch. Oh and BTW, there is no anti-virus software running, none whatsoever. It isn't needed.

Not a fanboy, just a fact. No, I don't use a Mac myself.

RE: easy to fix eh
By ClownPuncher on 3/5/2012 6:47:04 PM , Rating: 5
They would be in no way safer for operating nuclear or grid facilities. You parents just can't be bothered to learn to use a firewall and MSE.

RE: easy to fix eh
By Pirks on 3/5/2012 6:47:29 PM , Rating: 5
there is no anti-virus software running, none whatsoever
Welcome to the real world, man ;)

"Apple has expanded a download warning feature in Mac OS X 10.5 to create rudimentary anti-malware detection in the new Snow Leopard operating system due out Friday, sources have confirmed.

Out of the box, Snow Leopard will be able to detect only two Trojan horses, although Apple will be able to push other signatures to users through the Mac operating system's Software Update service "

Yeah, of course "it isn't needed", because Apple already has a built-in antivirus in OS X.

Happy thinking different! :P

RE: easy to fix eh
By Tony Swash on 3/5/12, Rating: -1
RE: easy to fix eh
By Tony Swash on 3/5/12, Rating: -1
RE: easy to fix eh
By Pirks on 3/5/2012 7:09:34 PM , Rating: 1
What? You don't like the inclusion of Apple antivirus in OS X? Why?

I thought you'd love it. Pretty strange reaction from you, Tony.

RE: easy to fix eh
By name99 on 3/5/12, Rating: -1
RE: easy to fix eh
By StevoLincolnite on 3/5/2012 11:44:52 PM , Rating: 5
After dealing with virus after virus on my Parent's PC's, I switched them both to Mac's.

That's not the Machine or Operating systems fault. That is the users.

My Neighbors were notorious for getting viruses, Trojans and spyware.
A little bit of education and some decent protection... And they haven't had a single infection in the last few years.

If you are going to click on every single advert, download files which may be malicious or open emails from strangers... Then you are putting your system at risk.

RE: easy to fix eh
By TSS on 3/6/2012 9:17:55 AM , Rating: 5
How do you know they're running virus free if you don't have anti-virus on them?

RE: easy to fix eh
By Rukkian on 3/6/2012 1:21:00 PM , Rating: 3
Because they are on Macs, and he blindly prays at the alter of Jobs. Everything the great almighty (Jobs) says is completely true.

"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini

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