Feeds

Missing piece completes Stuxnet jigsaw

Malware targets frequency converter drives from two specific vendors

Security for virtualized datacentres

Security researchers have found an important missing piece in the Stuxnet jigsaw that provides evidence that the malware was targeted at the types of control systems more commonly found in nuclear plants and other specialised operations than in mainstream factory controls.

It was already known that the highly sophisticated Stuxnet worm targets industrial plant control (SCADA) systems from Siemens, spreading using either unpatched Windows vulnerabilities or from infected USB sticks. The malware only uses infected PCs as a conduit onto connected industrial control systems. The malware is capable of reprogramming or even sabotaging targeted systems while hiding its presence using rootkit-style functionality.

New research, published late last week, has established that Stuxnet searches for frequency converter drives made by Fararo Paya of Iran and Vacon of Finland. In addition, Stuxnet is only interested in frequency converter drives that operate at very high speeds, between 807 Hz and 1210 Hz.

The malware is designed to change the output frequencies of drives, and therefore the speed of associated motors, for short intervals over periods of months. This would effectively sabotage the operation of infected devices while creating intermittent problems that are that much harder to diagnose.

Low-harmonic frequency converter drives that operate at over 600 Hz are regulated for export in the US by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as they can be used for uranium enrichment. They may have other applications but would certainly not be needed to run a conveyor belt at a factory, for example.

Symantec - which has an informative write-up piece here - describes the new research as a "critical piece of the puzzle". Eric Chien, a senior researcher at Symantec, writes. "With this discovery, we now understand the purpose of all of Stuxnet’s code".

Although we know what Stuxnet does, we still can't be sure who created it or its exact purpose, although we can make an educated guess.

Stuxnet infections first surfaced in Malaysia in June, but the appearance of the malware in Iran has long been the major point of interest in the story. Plant officials at the controversial Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran admitted the malware had infected its network in September. This had nothing to do with a recently announced two-month delay in bringing the reactor online, government ministers subsequently claimed.

One theory is that Russian contractors at the site of Bushehr power plant introduced the malware, either accidentally or (more likely) deliberately. Stuxnet used four Windows zero-day vulnerabilities to spread and must have been developed by a team with expertise in and access to industrial control systems over several weeks, at a minimum. Altogether an expensive and tricky project with no obvious financial return, factors suggest the malware was developed with either the direct involvement of support of intelligence agencies or nation-states and designed for sabotage.

The appearance of the malware has provoked talk of cyberwar in some quarters and certainly done a great deal to raise the profile of potential attacks on power grid and utility systems in the minds of politicians. This is regardless of the potential likelihood of such an attack actually being successful, which remains unclear even after the arrival of Stuxnet. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
NASTY SSL 3.0 vuln to be revealed soon – sources (Update: It's POODLE)
So nasty no one's even whispering until patch is out
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
Forget passwords, let's use SELFIES, says Obama's cyber tsar
Michael Daniel wants to kill passwords dead
FBI boss: We don't want a backdoor, we want the front door to phones
Claims it's what the Founding Fathers would have wanted – catching killers and pedos
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.