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Modified Stuxnet virus could attack almost any control system

14 December, 2010

A Finnish computer virus expert has warned that the Stuxnet virus could be modified easily to attack almost any industrial control system. Speaking at the recent SPS/IPC/Drives show in Germany, Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer of the anti-virus specialist F-Secure, described Stuxnet as a “game-changer” and said that it would be easy to copy and modify. “I’m afraid we will be seeing more of these,” he warned.

Hyppönen (above) said that Stuxnet had come as a “revolution” for the computer security industry. “We have never seen malware that modifies the operation of automation equipment before,” he reported.

Stuxnet, he added, had required “a massive investment in development” requiring “multiple man-years” of work. The technology involved appeared “almost alien”, as if “something from the future has dropped into our laps”. For example, the virus is unique in exploiting five different “zero-day vulnerabilities”, Hyppönen said. This means that “even with a fully-patched PC with no Internet connection, it can infect the system”.

Following the recent discovery that, under specific circumstances, the Stuxnet virus can infect certain Siemens PLCs which, in turn, can affect the operation of connected drives running at unusually high speeds, Vacon has teamed up with F-Secure to research computer security in industrial automation applications. They say they want to raise the industry`s awareness and understanding of industrial automation processes and data communication so that it can be prepared for such risks in the future.

“Stuxnet was an eye-opener for the whole industry,” says Vacon executive vice-president, Heikki Hiltunen (above). “In partnership with F-Secure, we aim to keep our customers up-to-date on this and other issues also in the future. As the world`s largest company that focuses solely on AC drives, we want to be the leader in data security in our industry.”

According to Hiltunen, Vacon changed the firmware in its drives earlier this year so that high-speed operation can be achieved only when specifically activated to do so by Vacon engineers.

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