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Stuxnet: a New Era in Global Security

Alexandra Goman

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Stuxnet was a malware which affected an Iranian nuclear facility (along with couple of other industrial sites across the world). It was found in 2010 but it took quite a while to actually discover it. What is particular about it is the fact that it crossed the line between cyber and physical domain, showing that it was possible to use a code to damage a critical infrastructure.  Before it, a general debate in national / global security on how a critical infrastructure can be targeted and damaged through the information system has only been theoretical.  After Stuxnet it was evident that cyberspace could be exploited and used to launch cyberattacks in order to cause physical damage. So what actually happened?

On June 17, 2010 Sergey Ulazin from a small security company in Belarus received a help-request for technical support from a customer in Iran. Arbitrary BSODs (a stop error after a system crash) and computer reboots were reported. After careful examination and a regular check for system malfunction, it was discovered that a malware infection was probably involved (The Man Who Found Stuxnet – Sergey Ulasen in the Spotlight). Having a stealthy nature and strange payload, it was later named Stuxnet, according to the file-name found in the code. A computer worm infected at least 14 industrial sites in Iran along with the uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz.

It carried genuine digital certificates (they guarantee that you can trust a file) from recognized companies, and it was well-developed and direct. The malware was able to determine the target it was looking for. In case, it was not, it did nothing and moved on to another system. This “fingerprinting of the control systems” proved that it was not just an average malicious program, but a targeted malware that meant to destroy.

Although Stuxnet relied on a physical person to install it (via USB flash drive), the worm spreads on its own between computers with Windows operating system. It affects other machines, regardless of the connection to the Internet though a local computer network. It could also infect other USB flash drives and jump into other computers through it. Moreover, it proliferates very quickly.

Once the worm infects a system, it waits, checking if necessary parameters are met. As soon as they are, it activates a sequence that causes industrial process to self-destruct. Symantec, a software company that provides cyber security software and services, conducted a thorough analysis of Stuxnet and found that Iran, Indonesia and India were the most affected countries in the early days of infection. The nuclear facility at Natanz was one of the most affected.

Furthermore, the principle is that this malware identifies a target, then records the data and finally decides what normal operations are. After this, it plays pre-recorded data on the computers of the personnel so that they think that the centrifuges are running normally, when in fact they are not. In the end, it erases itself from the system so that it cannot be traced and/or found.

The International Atomic Energy Agency inspected the Natanz facility and confirmed (International Atomic Energy Agency (2010)) that the centrifuges were malfunctioning and producing less than 20% of enriched uranium. However, at that time, the reason for that was unknown. The most detailed damage assessment came later from the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. It claimed that Stuxnet destroyed 984 centrifuges. However, Iran has not provided such a number, and the IAEA failed to give precise information on the damage.

Stuxnet crossed this line where a code infects software or digital programs, what it actually did, it affected the physical equipment. This has brought a new technological revolution. Before, viruses were used by cyber pranksters and minor rowdies to cause a system to crash on computers of innocent victims. But state-to-state attacks and a cyberwar were not discussed and were not thought of, as it was something out of science fiction scenarios. Stuxnet has changed this perception, and opened a new era in global security.

A former chief of industrial control systems cyber security research said that Stuxnet was “the first view of something … that doesn’t need outside guidance by a human – but can still take control of your infrastructure. This is the first direct example of weaponized software, highly customized and designed to find a particular target.” It is not hard to imagine that similar malicious programs can be developed in the future and used to achieve a military and/or political goal.

Many believe that the cyberattacks on Iran nuclear facility were meant to slow down Iran nuclear program. However, enrichment recovered within a year, and did not permanently damage nuclear program. Some experts also say that it had no effect on nuclear program whatsoever and the whole situation around Stuxnet was over-hyped by the media. Others are also saying that evidence on the malware has been inconclusive and Stuxnet may have, in fact, helped in speeding up Iranian nuclear program. The media reaction towards cyberattacks may have been exaggerated because of the secrecy around cyber issues but in end Stuxnet has made a good story.

As to the parties involved, the attack was not tied to a specific name and/or a country. Yet, it widely believed to be launched by U.S. and Israel. The sophistication of the program required considerable amount of resources, including extensive financial support and skilled specialists. This is why many security companies and experts agree on attributing the complex malware to one or more states. Among them is Kaspersky Lab, a multinational cyber security company, who says that the attack was launched with a specific motivation in mind. The attackers wanted to access industrial control systems which monitor and control infrastructure and processes of the facility. (Similar systems are used in power plants, communication systems, airports, and even military sites). Moreover, such an attack required significant amount of intelligence data so Kaspersky Lab is convinced that it was likely supported by a nation state.

Although the identity of the attacker is still unknown, many experts in international politics believe that the attack was clearly politically-motivated and aimed to slow down the development of Iran’s nuclear program. The United States and Israel both deny their involvement in Stuxnet, however, some leaked information (WikiLeaks, CBC interview with a former CIA director Michael Hayden etc.) suggests that the claims might have some credibility. Regardless the claims made, it is important to highlight that no country officially declared that it launched an offensive cyberattack.

All in all, Stuxnet has revolutionized the way we look at malicious digital programs and boosted a debate about cyber tools used for political purpose. After all, we are living in a highly digitalized world where we are dependent on technology. Military is no exception. Digital technologies are widely being incorporated into military planning and operations. Modern nuclear and conventional weapons systems rely and depend on information systems for launching, targeting, command and control, including technologies that govern safety and security. It is clear that future military conflicts will all include a digital aspect and cyber technologies. Stuxnet was just an early version of software that could potentially destroy an industrial site, specifically a nuclear facility. If malware actually achieved its goals, consequences would have been disastrous and could cause an international crisis.

 After all, as experts once have said, “Major concern is no longer weapons of mass destruction, but weapons of mass disruption” (Cetron and Davies, 2009).

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Specialist in global security and nuclear disarmament. Excited about international relations, curious about cognitive, psycho- & neuro-linguistics. A complete traveller.

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How Will Roads Change As Logistics Become Automated?

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There have been a lot of big developments to be found inside the automated vehicle space over the last few years. With countless car companies throwing their hats into the ring, it’s only a matter of time until cars that don’t need drivers are able to spend more time on the road. Of course, though, personal transport is only one side of this, and the automated driving scene is much more likely to impact logistics in the short-term. But how exactly will this change the way that transport companies operate, and how will the roads you use be impacted by changes like this?

Increased Safety

Currently, many truck drivers have to push themselves to their limits to be able to get their work done. Long drives can easily be held up, but important deadlines can’t be missed without throwing off an entire schedule, and this leaves drivers having to miss sleep and drive long distances without breaks. A tacho card will usually be used to monitor this, making sure that drivers don’t break the law. Automated transport promises to solve problems like this, with digital machines never tiring and being able to work for days on end without having to take a break.

Greater Efficiency

Many transport companies have to use the roads at the same time as normal drivers to make sure that they can make their deliveries without pushing drivers too hard. This sort of approach wouldn’t need to be taken with automated vehicles, instead giving transport operators the chance to choose the quietest times to have their machines on the road. Alongside this, route planning can be more dynamic, with plans being changed on the fly to make up for things like traffic issues. Of course, though, as a big part of this, normal drivers may experience some strange behavior from the automated trucks that they see, especially when they are first starting to hit the road.

Convoys

While it may be something that changes in the future, transport companies are often more interested in systems that use convoys of trucks rather than simply sending trucks out on their own. This involves having a lead truck that is driven by a normal person, with several other trucks that tail safely behind it. This can make it much easier to have trucks follow specific routes without having to rely on GPS systems can lose signal or be disrupted in other ways. Of course, though, as a big part of this, many transport companies simply can’t afford the technology like this, and it could be a few more years until they start to be spotted when you’re out and about.

With all of this in mind, you should have a much better idea of how the automated logistics market is going to change roads over the next few years. The way that you drive will almost certainly change as time goes by, with more and more automated driving options becoming available all the time.

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Matica’s CEO Sandro Camilleri speaks about security in digital payments

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One thing is for sure: the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many behaviors and trends that once were holding their pace. A great example can be found in digital payments and online shopping. According to Rakuten Intelligence, from March through mid-April, e-commerce spending in the United States increased more than 30% compared to the same period last year. When it comes to worldwide scores, it reaches the surprising increase of 74%.

Although books and cleaning products led the ranks mapped by Rakuten, specialists argue that digital payments and online shopping are here to stay, as much as it has already been observed in Asian countries. In this sense, securing financial transactions and protecting consumer data became a mandatory issue to be addressed both by companies and the government.

As a leading European company in the processing and printing of cards and identification documents for security systems, Matica Technologies is dedicated to granting safety and technological solutions to businesses dealing with financial transactions online. According to the CEO and founder of Matica, Sandro Camilleri, the advent of digital payments is a revolution similar to that which technology has caused and is currently causing in other areas, such as transports. “It is an inevitable revolution, which citizens will have to get used to, and which must therefore be managed in order not to risk unintended consequences, being the key issue obviously safety,” he argues.

Camilleri stresses that there are two different phases when it comes to digital payment security. A first one is about information and personal data storage, one of the greatest topics of our time and also a potentially enormous market sector. The second, less discussed though equally important, is guaranteeing strength and security for the financial transaction itself — and this is a purely technological issue. “The use of chips that are equipped with incredible memories, high precision lasers and holograms makes it extremely difficult, not to say impossible, for any attacker to clone a card produced by us. Secondly, the transaction must be secure thanks to specific and constantly updated software,” explains Matica’s CEO.

Now, when it comes to privacy, Camilleri states that people must be aware of what is at stake when data is leaked and why such occurrences are so alarming. With more and more appliances being automated and connected to computers and to the internet, such as is the case for cars and home security systems, cyberattacks could lead to consequences that are not only terrible, but tragic. 

In such situations, Matica’s CEO believes that only biometric data could spare individuals from having their systems hacked, though this data must be filed with care and used only for strictly necessary purposes. In any case, Camilleri argues that using biometrics is becoming day by day more inevitable with the increasing rhythm of automation, and this is a feature that can already be found in some of Matica’s available systems, such as is the case of the passport series.

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Are You Aware Of Your Children’s Online Activity?

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There’s a big, wide, scary, often strange world out there, and it’s the task of any individual to grow into an adult and begin to contend with it. However, most responsible parents understand that showing the raw facts of life, or being introduced to bad influences is simply not suitable for a young child. They must learn slowly, with care, and appropriately to the degree we’re able to foster that environment. Parents cater to this by controlling what friends their children make, or what hours they may be allowed to spend time with them.

However, a growing cause for concern is the fact that many parents fail to keep their children safe online. The internet may as well be its own world, and it reflects our reality, both the good and the bad, the trustworthy and the terrible. This means that as a parent, it’s important to stay aware of your child’s online activity. If you can do that, you can better control the content they see, what they’re allowed to access, and the influences they are moved by.

Use Worthwhile Content Filters

It’s important to use the best content filters and parental controls you can. Some offer you access to limit internet time, while others help you block certain websites or content from being seen. With the best cyberbullying safety services, you can also ensure that your children are equipped to handle the unfortunate likelihood of encountering abuse online. The more you can engage in good habits now, and regulate their usage, the less likely they are to come to harm within the wild west that is the online world.

Understand The Trends

Understand the trends that occur and know how to deal with them. For instance, you might block access to certain apps or sites, but your child’s friend’s parents may not have the same philosophy. If you know the trends through paying attention to what they’re saying, you will be able to assess if they’re healthy or not. For instance, TikTok is now seen as a negative influence on many young children due to how poorly they moderate their content, and how limited content filters are in place. When you make decisions to help them stay secure, you are in effect limiting the vulnerable pathways in which they could become less safe.

Stay Alert

It’s important to say, but stay alert. If you notice your child is finding it hard to engage with social media, or they follow a risky YouTuber, you are within your right to restrict access or to observe more closely. It’s a tough job, but ultimately you cannot completely banish your child from the internet for the entirety of their childhood. It’s best to help them build healthy habits now and also know how to stay safe online than to pretend it doesn’t exist. To that end, you’ll be making the right choices.

With this advice, we hope you can better stay aware of your children’s online activity, and manage it as appropriately.

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