In the classic apocalyptic film Terminator, future planet earth is under siege by sentient man-made robots of war seeking to terminate the human race. Autonomous machines created by human beings to destroy human beings. Maximum dystopian, and scary enough as fiction, however, the military industrial complex and the deep state are bringing us ever closer each year to this dark future.
Case in point, the Stuxnet computer worm, developed as a joint U.S-Israeli-British cyber weapon, it is set of malicious computer code which infects a ubiquitous model of programmable logic controllers (PLC’s), commonly used around the world in power plants and factories to mechanically control industrial hardware. PLC’s can tell a fan when to turn on and off, how much of a chemical to add to a product, or for how long to operate an industrial mixer or cooling system. They are the direct link between the cybernetic and the physical world.
Stuxnet was originally designed to seek out and to attack such hardware in Iran’s Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment facility in order to disable centrifuges, thereby disrupting Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons, which it did so successfully in 2010.
“This worm was an unprecedentedly masterful and malicious piece of code that attacked in three phases. First, it targeted Microsoft Windows machines and networks, repeatedly replicating itself. Then it sought out Siemens Step7 software, which is also Windows-based and used to program industrial control systems that operate equipment, such as centrifuges. Finally, it compromised the programmable logic controllers.” [Source]
The attack on Natanz was a covert and illegal act of force, and part of spectrum of tactics employed at that time against Iran’s nuclear bomb making ambitions, including the assassinations of top Iranian nuclear scientists, attacks on Iranian pipelines, an international propaganda campaign, and pressure from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Stuxnet is uncommonly dangerous in the world of malware, and to the digital detectives who discovered it and the analysts tasked with figuring out what it was, who made, and what it could do, it was their worst case scenario, something they had hoped they would never actually see unleashed unto the world.