Don Hankins via Flickr

Irishman shows the world the dangers of Stuxnet

You might not have heard of Stuxnet – but after seeing this video you might get a little bit nervous about it.

THE CHANCES ARE that you haven’t yet heard of a new computer worm called ‘Stuxnet’, but there’s a fair chance it could be the most powerful warfare tool of the new millennium.

The worm, which affects industrial programs running Siemens programs on Windows, is the first in a new breed of superworm that is sophisticated enough to plant itself within a target computer and gain full access over it, but yet hide its tracks so well that there is practically no symptom of its presence.

That is, until it acts. When it does so, depending on the malicious intent of its programmers, it can make a computer casually and secretly disobey any and all instructions given to it.

This video – of a presentation given last week by Irishman Liam Ó Murchú, who works for anti-virus firm Symantec – may help to illustrate the powerful consequences of the worm. Watch as he tells his (infected) computer to pump a balloon for three seconds.

As Ó Murchú – a UCD graduate now living in LA – points out, if applied in other ways, the code could force a computer to disobey an instruction over how much oil or radioactive material to release at any one time – a vulnerability with potentially diabolical consequences.

Ó Murchú has written a blog post outlining how the worm could be used to roll out a possible attack.

The Stuxnet worm is so complex that many analysts believe only a major nation would have the capacity to formulate it. A Symantec study in August showed that Chinese computers were most commonly affected by the worm.

There were 6 million estimated infections there, while there were 2,913 in the United States and just five in Germany.

Wikileaks has suggested previously that the delay in opening a new nuclear plant in Iran could be attributed to the worm – pointing out that the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency resigned in mysterious circumstances this summer.

It poses such a major threat, however, that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer now believes the worm – and the inevitable copycats that will follow – would hamper the development of ‘cloud computing’, and even the development of the economy itself.

While it is possible that the worm’s goals have already been achieved by the creator, many online security analysts are crossing their fingers that the worm does not result in human casualty.