Was the Stuxnet virus created by a government?

National Business Review | September 29, 2010

With its unique ability to attack industrial control systems, Stuxnet is the first computer virus, or "worm", that causes real-life harm.

Security experts think the Stuxnet was created with the explicit aim of disabling an Iranian uranium enrichment facility.

That seemingly geo-political aim, plus the sophistication of the virus, have led to speculation that Stuxnet may have been created by a government.

The New York Times examines the argument that Stuxnet was an example of "cyber warfare"; in fact, multiple security experts are convinced it could only have been created by a government.

“Based on what researchers are seeing, it is possible that a government or wealthy private entity could be behind its creation,” Liam O’Murchu, a researcher at security software company Symantec said today in a statement sent to NBR.

“The worm is made up of complex computer code that requires a variety of different skills to create. It is sophisticated, well-funded and there are not many groups that could pull this kind of threat off,” Mr Murchu said.

The infection agent was relative low-tech however. Experts think Stuxnet likely arrived in Iran on a USB stick, which an employee of the country's nuclear programme advertently - or inadvertently - plugged into a computer.

AVG's Asia Pacific VP of sales Peter Baxter, in Auckland today for the launch of AVG 2011, said the source of identification was not possible to identify and could have been created by any highly skilled individual.

There were multiple individuals and organisations with the sophistication to create Stuxnet, Mr Baxter said.

On thing both sides can agree on: Stuxnet is a world away from the copycat malware churned out by most of today's virus writers and script kiddies. It is a completely new class of virus, and would have taken months to create.

If it was created by a nation state for the purpose of cyber warfare, then "collateral damage" would be another operative phrase as industrial control systems around the world become infected with Stuxnet. Facilities at risk include power stations, dams and manufacturing systems.

Stuxnet has now hit systems in more than 115 countries, Symantec said.

AVG's antivirus software could stop the Stuxnet virus from infecting everyday computers, Mr Baxter said.