In a fascinating segment Sunday night, CBS News’s 60 Minutes delved into the creation of the Stuxnet worm, a revolutionary piece of software that has given Iran’s nuclear program fits for years now.
But it’s not just Iranian scientists who are now watchful for software attacks more sophisticated than anything ever before seen: U.S. officials are warning that Stuxnet is so advanced, it may actually signal the beginning of a new era of warfare that targets the enemy’s infrastructure instead of the populace at large.
The Stuxnet worm works by targeting a specific piece of manufacturing hardware, a logic box developed by Siemens, to cause malfunctions at a time of the attacker’s choosing. The hardware is relatively common for large scale manufacturing facilities, and the result in Iran has been years of setbacks in their nuclear program, as Stuxnet caused factory hardware to break down or refuse to function at all.
“We have entered into a new phase of conflict in which we use a cyberweapon to create physical destruction, and in this case, physical destruction in someone else’s critical infrastructure,” former Gen. Michael hayden told 60 Minutes.
Officials have explained that a modified Stuxnet, or a different software weapon on the level of Stuxnet, could leave America’s national infrastructure in tatters by shutting down electricity generation, grinding energy production facilities to a halt or leaving mass populations without access to telecommunications, among other potential threats.
“When you use a physical weapon it destroys itself in addition to the target, if it’s used properly,” he added. “A cyberweapon doesn’t, so there are those out there who can take a look at this, study it and maybe even attempt to turn it to their own purposes.”
The video below was broadcast by CBS News on Sunday, March 4, 2012.