Computer Virus

The notorious Stuxnet computer virus could be modified to attack many other industrial control systems, a Homeland Security official testified yesterday.

Sean McGurk, acting director of Homeland Security’s national cybersecurity operations center, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that variations of the Stuxnet worm, which was discovered in July, could be engineered using publicly available information about it.

He says Stuxnet has significantly altered the landscape of targeted cyberattacks.

“We have not seen this coordinated effort of information technology vulnerabilities and industrial control exploitation completely wrapped up in one unique package,” McGurk said.

He called the development of Stuxnet a “game changer”.

The most alarming aspect of the worm, he warned, was the fact that Stuxnet not only modifies files of industrial control system software (think electric power grid, water treatment, and oil and gas pipelines) but it can also steal the data contained there without being detected at all.

“The concern for the future of Stuxnet is that the underlying code could be adapted to target a broader range of control systems in any number of critical infrastructure sectors. These systems are used to operate physical processes that produce the goods and services that we rely upon, such as electricity, drinking water, and manufacturing,” said McGurk.

“Although each of the critical infrastructure industries, from energy though water treatment, is vastly different, they all have one thing in common: they are dependent on control systems to monitor, control, and safeguard their processes.”

There are approximately 44,000 computers infected with Stuxnet worldwide, about 60 percent of which are located in Iran. There are about 1,600 infections here in the U.S.