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Stuxnet continues to worry Internet security experts all over the world

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October 10, 2010

The Stuxnet virus continues to worry many Internet security experts all over the world. ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency) warns that similar attacks of malware capable of sabotaging industrial control systems and power grids may occur in the future.

The virus, whose primary method of entry into systems is infected USBs, essentially ignores vulnerable Windows boxes but aggressively attacks industrial control (SCADA) systems from Siemens, establishing a rootkit as well as a backdoor connection to two (now disconnected) command and control servers in Malaysia and Denmark.

PLC controllers of SCADA systems infected with Stuxnet could potentially be programmed to establish destructive over/under pressure conditions by running pumps at different frequencies, for example. There's no evidence either way as to whether this has actually happened, but what is clear is that the malware has caused a great deal of concern and inconvenience.

India, Indonesia and especially Iran have all recorded the most incidents of the worm, according to analysis of infected IP addresses by security firms all over the world.

Incidents of infection were first recorded in Malaysia, but the appearance of the malware in Iran has been the focus of comment and attention. Plant officials at the controversial Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran have admitted that the malware has infected some laptops. However government ministers, while blaming the attack on nuclear spies, had downplayed the impact of the attack and denied it has anything to do with a recently announced 2-month delay in bringing the reactor online.

Iran is often the subject of controversial news in the global media for its many nuclear reactor programs and the country continues to claim that it isn't building nuclear weapons but instead it's only for power applications.

Dr Udo Helmbrecht, executive director of ENISA commented "Stuxnet is a new class and dimension of malware. Not only for its complexity and sophistication (eg by the combination of exploiting four different vulnerabilities in Windows, and by using two stolen certificates) and from there attacking complex Siemens SCADA systems."

"The attackers have obviously invested a substantial amount of time and capital to build such a complex attack program," added Helmbrecht.

Chantzos declined to enter into speculation about who created the malware or its intended target beyond saying "only a well-funded criminal organisation or nation state would have the resources to develop the malware".

Steve Purser of ENISA told journalists that Stuxnet has taught security experts nothing they didn't already know... "What is significant is its target and impact. We have to prepare for a future Stuxnet, and this is where it gets really complicated."

Critical protection methodologies and best practices will have to be reassessed in the wake of Stuxnet, according to ENISA.

"The fact that hackers and perpetrators activated such an attack tool can be considered as the first strike against major industrial resources, not just in Iran and India but this could also happen in the U.S. as well as in Europe or elsewhere. This has tremendous effects on how to protect national (CIIP) in the future," added Purser.

Ilias Chantzos, director of government relations at Symantec, told a meeting at the Symantec Vision conference in Barcelona this week that millions had been spent developing the malware.

"Stuxnet would have involved a team of at least five to ten software developers six months research and direct access to SCADA systems. The motive behind the malware was to spy and re-program industrial control systems that are used mainly on power grids," said Purser.

Large scale attacks on critical infrastructure require a coordinated international response. No Member State, hardware/software vendor, CERT or law enforcement agency can successfully mitigate sophisticated attacks like Stuxnet on their own. ENISA plans to support these efforts by helping to revise best practices for securing SCADA systems.

Additionally, ENISA, in co-operation with all EU Member States and three EFTA countries, plan to mount the first pan-Europe cyber-security exercise in early November. Cyber Europe 2010 will set out to test member states' plans, policies and procedures for responding to potential critical information infrastructure crises or incidents, such as those posed by Stuxnet.

The group is similar but a lot smaller than the Cyber-Storm program in the U.S.

Established in 2004, ENISA was granted a five-year extenuation to its responsibilities in September. The agency's analysis of Stuxnet and links to other resources can be found on its website.

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Source: TIRN.

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