During 2011 the Stuxnet worm targeted Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, specifically the Siemens components in it, and several other key industrial installations globally. Its origins were shrouded in secrecy and conspiracy theories abounded. Was it instigated by the US? Or Israel? Or both?
Called the world’s first “cyber super-weapon” by writer Christopher Goodwin, it put the entire US power grid out of action for two days last October. It’s Stuxnet’s simplicity that makes it scary – just 15k lines of code versus 50k to 100k for a ‘normal’ virus.
This simplicity meant that it was able to sneak past Apple’s usually tight scrutiny over the year-end retail sales rush.
It was released as a free app for anyone to use under the pseudonym ‘NewsWar’ – allegedly a game to simulate popular protests that have become so commonplace during the past few years.
The app has been down-loaded 100 million times so far, and has been actively played by an estimated 50 million people. All of their devices are now infected and any of the web sites they have accessed are at risk.
This virus is not specifically targeted at industrial installations. It has however already taken over the computer systems of major news networks including CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, SkyGo and the BBC’s iPlayer, as well as iTunes and three mobile networks.
At this stage we have no idea of what the outcome will be, but we do know that the IT functions of these corporations are no longer in control and the fingers are now reaching outwards into the financial systems that link all their subscribers together. The national power grids are trying to establish how the virus could jump from current infiltrated nodes to their industrial systems.
It is likely that if you are reading this, you are seeing it only on a real newspaper as your laptop and iPad are useless if you’ve played NewsWar.