U.S. security experts say a variant of the Stuxnet computer worm caused the destruction of a water pump at a public utility in Springfield, Ill., last week. Discovered in June of last year, Stuxnet targets the Windows-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems developed by Siemens to control and monitor specific industrial processes.
Though the destruction of a pump might not seem like such a big deal, there are oil pipelines, power plants, large communication systems, airports, ships and even military installations around the world using similar control systems. An earlier cyber attack targeting a control system at a hydroelectric facility in Russia killed more than 70 people in 2009.
The potential threats posed by cyber warfare are only outranked by nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, warned Gen. Keith Alexander, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.
"When you look at the vulnerabilities that we face in this area, it's extraordinary," Alexander said earlier this month. "What we see is a disturbing trend -- from exploitation to disruption to destruction."
A New Cyber Arms Race
What's worse, Stuxnet may merely be the prototype for more powerful next-generation cyber weapons that ultimately will make the Web the new battleground in an ever-widening arms race.
"In the past there were just cyber criminals," said Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky. "Now I am afraid it is the time of cyber terrorism, cyber weapons and cyber wars," he warned the security industry in a speech delivered in November of last year.
The first known Stuxnet variants uncovered were specifically aimed at Iran-based organizations with probable ties to the nation's nuclear energy program. The sophistication of the worm's coding and other factors have led computer security experts to believe that Stuxnet was a state-sponsored worm specifically constructed for conducting cyber warfare.
"This piece of malware was designed to sabotage plants, to damage industrial systems," Kaspersky said.
Last week the worm turned, and this time the target was an industrial installation in the United States. According to Applied Control Systems cyber security expert Joseph Weiss, it appears that the attack on the Illinois water utility had actually been under way for weeks prior to the pump's destruction.
"Minor glitches were observed in remote access to the SCADA system for two to three months before it was identified as a cyber attack," Weiss wrote in a blog. "It is believed the SCADA software vendor was hacked and customer usernames and passwords stolen."
To protect U.S. military installations, the U.S. Defense Department is evaluating a possible move to more-secure cloud computing environments, which would prevent foreign adversaries from targeting any single computer server.
As part of a more dynamic perimeter defense network, Alexander is also considering the creation of special "hunter teams" that could actively seek out and defuse potential cyber threats before they actually cause damage.
Posted: 2011-11-29 @ 7:52am PT
Posted: 2011-11-21 @ 4:04pm PT
Water plan used a 3-character password, this was not cyber-terrorism...
Posted: 2011-11-21 @ 3:42pm PT
How did it destroy a water pump???
The story sucks, give real details.
Its like a S/W designer, NO Value! NO details!
Was the code written in COBOL???