Stuxnet is a computer worm that was discovered in June 2012. Initially, Stuxnet spreads via the Microsoft Windows form of operating system. However, Stuxnet is particularly interesting as it has been developed to target Siemens industrial software and equipment. Although this is not the first time that hackers have targeted industrial systems, it is the first discovered type of malware that both actively spies on and actively subverts industrial systems.
In terms of how Stuxnet operates, at first the worm spreads indiscriminately. However at all times the worm includes a highly specialised malware ‘payload’ that is designed to target only Siemens ‘supervisory control and data acquisition’ systems that are in fact configures to control and monitor specific industrial processes.
Different variants of Stuxnet targeted five Iranian organisation, with the target being uranium enrichment infrastructure in Iran. In August 2010 it was noted that 60% of the computers infected with Stuxnet (worldwide) were located in Iran. Whilst also, on 29 November 2010 Siemens stated that the worm has not caused any damage to its customers, but that the Iranian nuclear program (which uses embargoed Siemens equipment that has been procured secretly) has in fact been damaged by Stuxnet. It is interesting to note that despite the uncertainty regarding the source of Stuxnet when it was first discovered (it has since come to light that it was developed by the United States and Israel, as outlined below) the immediate general consensus was that a worm as complex as Stuxnet would require nation state support.
On 1 June 2012, an article in the New York Times declared that Stuxnet is part of a US and Israeli intelligence operation (called ‘Operation Olympic Games’) started under President George W Bush and subsequently expanded under the administration of President Barack Obama.