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Stuxnet clones may target critical US systems, DHS warns

Code samples raise concerns of variants

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Officials with the US Department of Homeland Security warned that hackers could attack the country's power generation plants, water treatment facilities, and other critical infrastructure with clones of the Stuxnet computer worm, which was used to disrupt Iran's nuclear-enrichment operations.

Stuxnet was first detected last July as a self-replicating piece of malware that spread virally through SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, systems used to control valves, gears, and other physical processes in industrial plants and factories. It was eventually identified as a highly sophisticated worm that exploited previously unknown vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows and Siemens software that actively sought to sabotage several uranium enrichment facilities in Iran.

Speculation has abounded that it was the covert work of Israel, the US, or both.

At a hearing Tuesday before a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, DHS officials said they are worried the wealth of technical details and code samples from Stuxnet could lead to clones that similarly target critical infrastructure in the US.

"Looking ahead, the Department is concerned that attackers could use the increasingly public information about the code to develop variants targeted at broader installations of programmable equipment in control systems," Roberta Stempfley and Sean P. McGurk warned in written comments posted on Wired.com, which reported on the warning earlier. "Copies of the Stuxnet code, in various different iterations, have been publicly available for some time now."

The ICS-CERT, short for the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center "remain vigilant and continue analysis and mitigation efforts of any derivative malware," they added.

Stempfley and McGurk are the DHS assistant secretary for the DHS Office of Cybersecurity and Communications and director of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center Office, respectively. Their comments before the US House's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations warned that various nation states, terrorist networks, organized crime groups, and individuals on US soil "are capable of targeting elements of the US information infrastructure to disrupt, or destroy systems upon which we depend."

ICS-CERT recently warned that SCADA software originating from China and used by some customers in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere contain security holes that could leave them open to Stuxnet-style attacks. The worm attacked five industrial plants inside Iran in 12,000 separate infections over a 10-month period, causing centrifuge arrays to malfunction. ®

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