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Stuxnet - Pandora's box is open

In June 2011 a computer virus called Stuxnet was discovered lurking in the data banks of power plants, traffic control systems and factories around the world.

Pandora's box has been opened; on the new battlefield the aggressors are anonymous, the shots are fired without starting wars and the foot soldiers can pull their triggers without leaving their desks.

Last week the United States government announced they would retaliate to a cyber-attack with conventional force. The threat is real, and the age in which a computer bug could cost lives has begun.

Stuxnet is a highly sophisticated computer worm. Discovered in June 2010, Stuxnet initially spreads via Microsoft Windows, and targets Siemens industrial software and equipment.

While it is not the first time that hackers have targeted industrial systems, it is the first discovered malware that spies on and subverts industrial systems, and the first to include a programmable logic controller (PLC) rootkit.

The worm initially spreads indiscriminately, but includes a highly specialised malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that are configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes. Stuxnet infects PLCs by subverting the Step-7 software application that is used to reprogram these devices.

Different variants of Stuxnet targeted five Iranian organisations, with the probable target widely suspected to be uranium enrichment infrastructure in Iran; Symantec noted in August 2010 that 60% of the infected computers worldwide were in Iran. Siemens stated that the worm has not caused any damage to its customers,but the Iran nuclear program, which uses embargoed Siemens equipment procured secretly, has been damaged by Stuxnet. Kaspersky Lab concluded that the sophisticated attack could only have been conducted "with nation-state support". This was further supported by the F-Secure's chief researcher Mikko Hyppönen who commented in a Stuxnet FAQ, "That's what it would look like, yes". It has been speculated that Israel and the United States may have been involved.

In May 2011, the PBS program Need To Know cited a statement by Gary Samore, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, in which he said, "we're glad they [the Iranians] are having trouble with their centrifuge machine and that we – the US and its allies – are doing everything we can to make sure that we complicate matters for them", offering "winking acknowledgement" of US involvement in Stuxnet.[

According to The Daily Telegraph, a showreel that was played at a retirement party for the head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Gabi Ashkenazi, included references to Stuxnet as one of his operational successes as the IDF chief of staff. On 1 June 2012, an article in The New York Times said that Stuxnet is part of a U.S. and Israeli intelligence operation called "Operation Olympic Games", started under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama.

On 24 July 2012, an article by Chris Matyszczyk from CNET reported how the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran e-mailed F-Secure's chief research officer Mikko Hyppönen to report a new instance of malware.
On 25 December 2012, an Iranian semi-official news agency announced there was a cyber-attack by Stuxnet, this time on the industries in the southern area of the country. The virus targeted a power plant and some other industries in Hormozgan province in recent months.