Stuxnet's Infection Of Chevron Shows Why 'Weaponized' Malware Is A Bad Idea

from the cyberenemy-within dept

The Stuxnet worm that attacked an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility a couple of years ago was exceptional from several viewpoints. It is believed to have been the costliest development effort in malware history, involving dozens of engineers. It also made use of an unprecedented number of zero-day exploits in Microsoft Windows in order to operate. Finally, Stuxnet seems to be the first piece of malware known with reasonable certainty to have been created by the US, probably working closely with Israel.

As Techdirt reported earlier this year, we know all this largely because the malware escaped from the target environment in Iran, and started spreading in the wild. We now learn that one of the companies infected as a result was Chevron:

The oil giant discovered the malware in July 2010 after the virus escaped from its intended target, Mark Koelmel, Chevron's general manager of the earth sciences department, told The Wall Street Journal.

"I don't think the U.S. government even realized how far it had spread," he said. "I think the downside of what they did is going to be far worse than what they actually accomplished."
This highlights a huge problem with the use of malware by national security services to carry out these kinds of covert attacks on their enemies. Where a physical attack on a foreign nation is unlikely to cause direct casualties back at home -- although it may lead to indirect ones through retaliation -- attacks using worms and other malware are far less targeted. If they escape, as is likely to happen given the near-impossibility of controlling what happens to them once they have been released, they may well find their way back to the attacker's homeland, and start infecting computer systems there.

This makes the "weaponization" of malware an inherently dangerous approach. Imagine if a nation deployed worms or viruses that changed data on infected systems in subtle ways, and that these started spreading by mistake among that same country's health organizations or banks. Lives could be lost, and financial systems thrown into disarray.

That's something worth bearing in mind amid increasing calls for the development of software that can be used offensively: as well as the likelihood of tit-for-tat responses, there is also the very real danger that the weapon will turn against the nation that created it.

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Filed Under: stuxnet, weaponized malware
Companies: chevron

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  1. icon
    sgt_doom (profile), 21 Nov 2012 @ 10:17am


    .. a country that hates the United States

    And many of us find such opinions, based upon pure ignorance rendered by the corporate media's false and fictionalized reporting -- or rather misreporting, of statements from Iranian politicians, more than ironic, dangerously ignorant.

    Since the overthrow of their democratically elected president or prime minister by the CIA, Brits and criminal elements within that country (Iran), and with the theft of their monies on account in the USA during the hostage crises --- which very likely was precipitated by at least two major events: the previous overthrow, and installing of the dictator that Shah of his Peacock Throne, and during their revolution in the late '70s, Jimmy Carter's presidential directive to destabilize the then-secular government of Afghanistan (moving Islamic Wahabist extremists from Saudi Arabia, with Saudi Arabian financial backing as well, to Afghanistan's northern border with the old Soviet Union to foment political and religious turmoil there --- the precursor to the Mujahedeen and eventually the Taliban --- when Sufi Islam [a more moderate form and non-extremist] was the majority religion among those living at the northern border).

    No irony involved, simply the typical American ignorance of their own history, which is why, with the typical American media attention span of 20 seconds, when President Obama claims it to be the right of Israel to "defend" itself against retalitory missiles fired into that country, when President Obama has directed exactly how many missiles fired by US drones into how many different foreign countries?????

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