27 Mar 2011

Stuxnet the ‘first unattributable act of war’? Or a tool of modern statecraft?

Written by energyscout

Vanity Fair writer Michael Joseph Gross, in the magazine’s April issue, tags the “Stuxnet” malware invasion of Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in 2010 the ‘first unattributable act of war.’ While this might be hyperbole, it helps to heighten awareness of how vulnerable control systems that help operate nuclear power plants and other industrial systems have become. And it gives weight to questions of who was — or is — behind this worm, even though the public will probably never know.

“Because cyber-weapons pose an almost unsolvable problem of sourcing—who pulled the trigger?—war could evolve into something more and more like terror,” Gross writes.  “Cyber-conflict makes military action more like a never-ending game of uncle, where the fingers of weaker nations are perpetually bent back. The wars would often be secret, waged by members of anonymous, elite brain trusts, none of whom would ever have to look an enemy in the eye.”

“For people whose lives are connected to the targets, the results could be as catastrophic as a bombing raid, but would be even more disorienting. People would suffer, but would never be certain whom to blame. Stuxnet is the Hiroshima of cyber-war. That is its true significance, and all the speculation about its target and its source should not blind us to that larger reality. We have crossed a threshold, and there is no turning back.”

Read the whole Vanity Fair article here.

In a lengthy investigative report ( which included an useful flowchart, below), The New York Times has asserted the virus was created using American knowledge of the relevant equipment and completed by Israel. Separately, The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, has reported that Stuxnet work is the “result of collaboration between at least one Western power and the Israeli secret service.”

Professor Peter Sommer, a computer forensics expert the London School of Economics and Political Science, told The Daily Telegraph (same article as above) the complexity of the Stuxnet attack was very impressive. Sommer added that the virus heralds only an evolutionary (not revolutionary) stage in the cyber security threats nations that will face in future. “We should see this as another type of tool in statecraft,” said Sommer, who advises the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on cyber security.


How the Stuxnet worm spreads through computer networks. Credit: The New York Times



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