The computer worm called "Stuxnet" was discovered back in June, but it's full capabilities are only now being discovered. At first, we thought it just spied on the workings of industrial systems. We now know we were dead, dead wrong.
Stuxnet's new abilities including being able to rewrite the logic system in, say, the machinery of a power plant and then covering its tracks. The result? All manner of things could happen to the plant, including a meltdown, and a meltdown is something you do not want to happen at a site with a nuclear reactor. The kind of supervisory control and data acquisition (or SCADA) components Stuxnet targets are used in everything from chemical, electric and nuclear power plants to factories all over the world. In other words, this thing could seriously damage a country's physical economy, power grid or production capabilities.
"Stuxnet is a 100-percent-directed cyber attack aimed at destroying an industrial process in the physical world," said Ralph Langner, a German cyber-security researcher. "This is not about espionage, as some have said. This is a 100 percent sabotage attack."
Three of America's top cyber counter-espionage experts — including Michael Assante, a former cyber security chief of the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory — agree that Stuxnet is a weapon designed to harm physical targets.
So, what can be done about Stuxnet? The experts are all working to reverse engineer the worm to figure out how it works, but it could be too late for the virus's target (or targets). Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant is considered to be the chief objective — Iran's whole nuclear program is considered a threat to countries around the world — but Stuxnet has been discovered around the world, too. One theory is that a Russian contractor working on the Bushehr plant used a thumb drive to deploy Stuxnet, as that same contractor has worked on other plants across the globe.
We can really only wait and see, folks. It's worth noting that while Stuxnet may be the first cyber super weapon designed to destroy physical targets, the CIA actually used a logic bomb to destroy a Russian gas pipeline back in the '80s. Want to read about it? Check out our list of seven of the worst cyberattacks ever.