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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: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Steve1981 on 3/6/2012 12:31:45 PM , Rating: 2
coming from someone living in the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in wartime.

What of it? From a historical standpoint, the US did precisely what it had to do to bring the war to a swift and decisive end. The Japanese had the opportunity to surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. They refused, in spite of the fact that Tokyo had already been badly firebombed, their fleets and air power were largely destroyed, etc. The Japanese got exactly what they were told they would get if they refused surrender. I'm sure if you ask the Chinese, they'd tell you the Japanese got exactly what they deserved as well.

RE: Here starts the cyber (hot) coldwar
By Peter898 on 3/7/2012 11:33:57 AM , Rating: 2
Let me get this straight :
You seriously believe it's OK to murder 100.000's of civilians and level entire cities, because 'they got what they deserved' ??
My God you are one bloodthirsty little war-lover, aren't you.
I truly hope YOUR country never gets what A LOT of people think you deserve ...

By Steve1981 on 3/7/2012 12:32:20 PM , Rating: 2
You seriously believe it's OK to murder 100.000's of civilians and level entire cities, because 'they got what they deserved' ??

I didn't say that; I only mention that the Chinese at the time, who had suffered massively under the brutality of the Japanese, were unlikely to have shed any tears for the Japanese who died as a result of the bombings.

However, it is my opinion that the bombings were in fact justified. Let us recall that it was the Japanese who brought war in the first place, not the US or the Allies. Even in the face of certain defeat, it was the Japanese who refused the terms of surrender offered by the Allied powers at Potsdam.

Realistically, once attacked, the US/Allied powers had one objective: to end the war as quickly and decisively as possible. And by 1945, it wasn't enough to just defeat Hitler's armies and Japan's fleets. Hitler and Japan's fanatical leadership absolutely had to be removed from power and held accountable for their atrocities. To that end, the Allies demanded surrender under the terms of Potsdam. The Japanese refused, believing they had a chance to potentially repulse an Allied invasion and end the war on slightly more favorable terms. The atomic bombs ended that belief rather dramatically, and achieved the objective of ending the war quickly and decisively.

My God you are one bloodthirsty little war-lover, aren't you.

I don't love war, quite the opposite; however, I understand its very bitter realities.

War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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