Internet Intrigue: China Reroutes the Web, Stuxnet Is Even Scarier

By Andrew Moseman | November 19, 2010 10:50 am

computerhackIt was late September when the world got wind of Stuxnet, the complex piece of malware that appeared to specifically target Iranian nuclear sites. Now, analysis of Stuxnet suggests it was almost perfectly designed to corrupt nuclear centrifuges, according to David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.

On Wednesday, Mr. Albright and a colleague, Andrea Stricker, released a report saying that when the worm ramped up the frequency of the electrical current supplying the centrifuges, they would spin faster and faster. The worm eventually makes the current hit 1,410 Hertz, or cycles per second — just enough, they reported, to send the centrifuges flying apart. In a spooky flourish, Mr. Albright said in the interview, the worm ends the attack with a command to restore the current to the perfect operating frequency for the centrifuges — which, by that time, would presumably be destroyed. [The New York Times]

Computer experts don’t know Stuxnet’s origin for sure, though the Times’ story drops a few cryptic hints of Israeli involvement. And further study of the attack shows that although Stuxnet appears calibrated to disrupt centrifuges, it could be easily adapted to seize the reins of other systems.

The widespread interconnection of corporate networks and use of SCADA systems [supervisory control and data acquisition] means that industrial infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to software attack. Such control systems are used in virtually every industry—food production, vehicle assembly, chemical manufacturing—and are commonly exposed to insecure networks. This leaves them vulnerable to tampering, such as with Stuxnet, as well as intellectual property theft. [Ars Technica]

Elsewhere in computing skulduggery, the big story Wednesday was the report that for 18 minutes on an April day, 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic mysteriously was rerouted through China.

The report said the move affected data traveling over both the government and military networks of the United States, including information from the Senate, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, the secretary of defense’s office, NASA, the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as from many American companies. The incidents, which were widely reported when they occurred, were never explained, although Chinese engineering managers said that the routing errors were accidental. [The New York Times]

Though reports of China-based cyberattacks have been increasing, China today denied any intentional wrongdoing, saying the accusation smacks of “Cold War thinking.” Nevertheless, the report should have us worried.

If the rerouting of traffic was in fact intentional, this incident can be filed alongside the Stuxnet worm … as a new generation of cyber attacks with geo-political implications. Even if neither the China Internet hijacking incident or the Stuxnet worm are truly state-sponsored attacks, they still illustrate what is possible for attackers with the skills and resources to pull it off. [PC World]

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Image: iStockphoto

  • John

    China is dangerous.

  • nick

    I’d say it’s probably scarier if A) accidental – accidentally re-routing all of America’s net traffic through another country? Our systems suck that much? wow. B) non-governmental. I could understand a government having enough money to pull off these hijinks, but if they’re not, they’re going to be disrupting governments in the future if we don’t figure out ways to protect our infrastructure. It’s bad enough our governments are trying to disrupt one another, but when any random jackass has the power to do so….

    And of course China is dangerous. So are we and many of the other first world nations. The only question is why we do or do not cooperate with others. As we’ve been seeking to keep their nation disempowered so as to keep our goods cheap, they may well be dangerous to us in the future. But I doubt overtly so. They will find much more satisfaction beating us at our own game. Keep in mind they own a good 10 to 15 percent of our national debt and quite a large percentage of our import dollars.

  • Dave L

    I wrote about this a couple of months ago. It has some scary political implications…


  • Und3rcult

    China reroutes the traffic for 18 minutes, downloads all the traffic data of American military and government and is now working hard to decipher the lot…dangerous games, what other countries will follow in the footsteps of China?

  • matt

    I believe China is heading us towards its own agenda, such that war has been declared already. I cant be the first to see ahead 30-80 years and see where the world is going?

    Unfortunately WMD’s have eliminated normal warfare and eventually all nations will have nuclear deterrants…then what…no more war apparently.

    What is left…Economic war (, cyber war, ownership war, duty wars, … ) and im in no doubt the world is currently in a third world war with China.

    When will the rest of the world wake up to realise this third world war is NOT being fought with weapons on a plain somewhere.

    The war will continue. China will no doubt do the following..or continue to do so unchecked.

    1. Amass a considerable amount of ownership in all companies and technologies in the west in strategic locations so that intelligence can be gathered easily.
    2. Own as much of the worlds currency as it can.
    3. Place all countries into significant debt such that they spend a considerable amount paying it off per year and cannot produce a surplus.
    4. Will expand its borders by taking neighbours at convienent times either directly or by suffocation or through increasingly rising chinese indigenous populations.
    5. Will commence a massive propoganda regime to destabilise the middle east so that west countries with heavy investments in it will fall foul of 4.
    6. Launch extensive cyber terroism in conjunction with Russia against the rest of the world. (Im assuming) Stuxnet is the first such destabilising software released providing 5. and getting in the back doors with 1.
    7. Try to make processes as drawn out and cost ineffective in any and all political circles such that items are bogged down for the hell of it to strangle political endevours in anything.
    8. Present a healthy cheap labour force (with little or no regulations) that will build such that the west loses all technical knowledge over time in significant areas and as many areas as possible.

    Still I could be wrong..but then again what if im not what would the world be like in 30 years? When China owns major shareholdings of all major companies in all the countries is the only super power, makes 90% of all the worlds products and decides in 20 years to expand a little.


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