By now must of you are aware of the Stuxnet malware, a set of malicious code so advanced that it can search and destroy a particular industrial plant software system. The coverage essentially describes its extreme accuracy and virtual impenetrability: “As Stuxnet malware is ‘weapon’ out to destroy … Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant?” Just imagine what this sophisticated (nasty) combination of malicious code can do for a well healed company against its competitors during many of the trade wars being constantly waged in the free markets. If the world’s military super powers are paying attention to cyber espionage these days, than we should all consider the ramifications when this level of sophistication (only a matter of time and deep pockets) is available to non-state actors. It’s not just the geopolitical scuffles, as the previous article describes; when States reach for the cyber warfare weapons in their toolkits to launch surreptitious attacks when transnational conflicts erupt. In a larger context this could represent a quantum leap in the way we think of conflict or asymmetrical (4G) warfare. Now, I can only speculate that Stuxnet is the work of a nation state, but experts seem to agree that its payload is targeting the iranian enrichment centrifuges in Natanz.
As a security practitioner responsible for the protection of production facilities and processes from sabotage, I’m concerned for the possibility that such attacks can compromise the critical industrial operating systems. As the previous article describes:
“its final payload, which manipulates parameters and code in the SPS computer is only executed if it is very certain to be on the right system… Industrial control systems, also called SCADA, are very specific for each factory. They consist of many little nodes, measuring temperature, pressure, flow of fluids or gas, they control valves, motors, whatever is needed to keep the often dangerous industrial processes within their safety and effectiveness limits.”
Such sophisticated attacks could amount to virtual sabotage on competing industrial facilities, if spies are able to gather information on the industrial supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software being used at any given plant. Another scenario might be that of cyber criminals using the threat of sabotage in corporate extortion schemes. You may ask why anyone would go through all the trouble; in reality in our hyper competitive business environment, motivations abound for any advantage against competitors in the market or any lucrative scheme for that matter. If that means rendering their production facilities useless by way of sabotage so be it. My third and most troubling concern is that this level of cyber attacks could be deployed not just against industrial facilities, but could also be adapted to attack other high value targets in our critical infrastructure, mainly data facilities hosting global financial transactions. As we saw back on May 6 of this year the high frequency trading platforms global financial markets have come to rely more on, are not without serious security vulnerabilities. We should not discount that such attacks could be part of our near future security risks.