By Chris Capps 2/17/11
In the age of high speed information trading, most information is easily accessed by those who spend enough time looking and even a rudimentary understanding of what they're trying to find. And so when the Stuxnet code was discovered and analyzed, the spread of information about this incredibly advanced worm soon reached the global community as well. But with people changing the Stuxnet virus, what could we expect in the coming future?
The virus itself is incredibly advanced, requiring decades worth of manpower and even more years of research on the subject before this seemingly perfect "A-bomb" of viruses could be created. The worm is not spread as so many others do via the internet directly, but could be transferred via file sharing sites or directly via USB drive. If an infected USB drive were to be placed in the USB port of a computer, it would not register anywhere or even appear to those looking at the computer. And it would also not make any noticeable changes to how the computer operates. It would simply sit there and wait until another USB drive were put into the computer. This is its primary means of propagating itself through an association of computers.
But if the computer were hooked up to some specific industrial systems, the drive would then begin interacting with this system directly, altering the way the centrifuge system works and creating poor quality uranium if the centrifuge were attempting to create uranium. Uranium must be processed for a long period of time, and a span of weeks or even months must pass within the centrifugal system before it can be used in a nuclear reactor. An even longer period must pass before it can be weaponized and used in nuclear weapons making the centrifuge process the simplest way of disrupting the production of nuclear weapons without direct military conflict.
But the virus Stuxnet is now "out there" and being analyzed by computer hackers who may use modified code to cause the virus to interact in different ways. There's no way of telling what future evolutions of Stuxnet may be capable of if a dedicated group of individuals were working on it, but the task itself would be no small undertaking. In the end a virus such as a modified Stuxnet could spread through any number of systems, propagated most likely by high use computer systems and the areas at most risk may be places of learning and college campuses where individuals use USB drives directly over the same terminals and have a high turnover rate.
Could we one day wake up to a world that has been effected by a time released virus simultaneously over a wide area? If Stuxnet were to be modified, there's no doubt we would be hearing about it quite a bit more if it started popping up around the world. In the mean time we can only hope that the virus itself is complex enough to make modifying it impossible, or that a new computer system that can combat the dangers of the virus can be implemented before it starts affecting other systems.