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Malware Will Change the Face of Warfare

The recent targeting of an Iranian nuclear power plant by a dangerous computer worm hints at how "cyber weapons" could change the face of future warfare, according to one security expert.

On Sept. 26, the Associated Press reported that the Stuxnet worm -- a piece of malware that targets computers running Siemens software used in industrial control systems -- hit the personal computers of the staff at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power facility.

The report follows a Sept. 25 article by the Tehran-based, State-run Mehr News Agency (MNA), which confirmed the attack. In the MNA story, Mahmoud Liaii, Director of the Information Technology Council of the Industries and Mines Ministry, explained that the Stuxnet worm was detected in the IP addresses of 30,000 industrial computer systems. (No specific systems were named).

“An electronic war has been launched in Iran,” Liaii said.

Though both the AP and MNA reported that the Stuxnet worm caused no serious damage to the Bushehr plant or its computer systems, the presence of such a virus and its ability to infect and takeover industrial systems raises a serious concern what role malware will play in the theatre of war.

Roel Schouwenberg is a Senior Malware Researcher with Security software company Kaspersky. Schouwenberg called Stuxnet a "cyber weapon," and agrees with the assertion made by Ralph Langener, a German security researcher who argued in a Sept. 16 blog that because of Stuxnet’s complexity, it was most likely manufactured not by a single hacker but by a highly sophisticated group, perhaps aided by a government.

“There’s no reason to believe governments wouldn’t be capable of writing malware,” Schouwenberg told TechNewsDaily. “With Stuxnet we’re seeing something which is likely written or supported by a nation-state. We’ve not seen any other cases where we suspect this to be the case.”

To construct and disseminate a worm such as Stuxnet, “requires a malware author with a lot of knowledge about these systems,” he said. “That definitely isn’t mainstream knowledge.”

Schouwenberg is confident malware will play an important part of large-scale future conflicts.

“I’m positive that in any future physical war we’ll also see a cyber-war going on at the same time, including the use of malware," he said.