At Marne, the industrial warfare hinted at barely half a century earlier came to fruition.
On a sunny, December morning, the rules of naval warfare were inexorably altered and four years later was answered in the light of a terrible, new weapon, one that its creator was prompted to utter “I am become death,Â the destroyer of words” when he first beheld his handiwork.
And now, after much speculation and demonstrations of its potential, it appears the first real shot in cyberspace was launched via a worm called “Stuxnet”:
. . . a jumble of code called Stuxnet, which in the last year has not only crippled Iran’s nuclear program but has caused a major rethinking of computer security around the globe.
Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they’ve all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department’s acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a â€œgame changer.â€ The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was â€œlike the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,â€ says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first â€œweaponizedâ€ computer virus.
The concentration of infections in Iran likely indicates that this was the initial target for infections and was where infections were initially seeded. While Stuxnet is a targeted threat, the use of a variety of propagation techniques (which will be discussed later) has meant that Stuxnet has spread beyond the initial target. These additional infections are likely to be â€œcollateral damageâ€â€”unintentional side-effects of the promiscuous initial propagation methodology utilized by Stuxent. While infection rates will likely drop as users patch their comput- ers against the vulnerabilities used for propagation, worms of this nature typically continue to be able to propa- gate via unsecured and unpatched computers.
Stuxnet represents the first of many milestones in malicious code history â€“ it is the first to exploit four 0-day vulnerabilities, compromise two digital certificates, and inject code into industrial control systems and hide the code from the operator. Whether Stuxnet will usher in a new generation of malicious code attacks towards real- world infrastructureâ€”overshadowing the vast majority of current attacks affecting more virtual or individual assetsâ€”or if it is a once- in-a-decade occurrence remains to be seen.Â Stuxnet is of such great complexityâ€”requiring significant resources to developâ€”that few attackers will be capable of producing a similar threat, to such an extent that we would not expect masses of threats of similar in sophistication to suddenly appear. However, Stuxnet has highlighted direct-attack attempts on critical infra- structure are possible and not just theory or movie plotlines.
The real-world implications of Stuxnet are beyond any threat we have seen in the past. Despite the exciting challenge in reverse engineering Stuxnet and understanding its purpose, Stuxnet is the type of threat we hope to never see again.
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