As the digital world blends with the physical world there are some fantastic benefits, but have you ever thought about the dangers? This one is potentially deadly… on a mass scale.
You may already know that some computer viruses are capable of causing real physical damage to objects such as hard drives or machinery. Basically, the concept is to digitally manipulate the programs that control and manage how an object in the real world behaves – in such a negative way that actual, physical damage is achieved.
Did you know that this concept may be scaled up to destroying high value targets such as nuclear power plants? I’m talking about serious physical destruction to real world targets. An extremely sophisticated virus may be designed to attack very specific targets to result in anything from operational hindrances to actual physical destruction to a scale that a digital virus could be classified as a purposefully designed weapon of mass destruction. Think of it as a digital virus that packs a nuclear warhead.
Currently, to create such a thing it requires a team of advanced hackers with significant resources, possibly provided by a well-funded private entity, but more likely a government agency or state (greater access to espionage intelligence needed to obtain some pieces of crucial information needed for both the design of the code and for the strategic “delivery”)
Think this scenario is science fiction? Wrong. It already exists. Enter Stuxnet.
Stuxnet is said to be the first malicious computer code created specifically to take control of systems that manage the internal operations of industrial plants. Last year, this code affected industries around the world, but especially a nuclear plant in Iran. It is suspected that it was created by a “computer super power” to specifically target Iran’s nuclear power program. Arguably, several countries have the capacity to create the code, including China, Russia, Israel, Britain, Germany and the United States. I’d place my bets on Uncle Sam.
Want to know more specifically how such a virus is designed in concept? Here is a great TED talk presentation by Ralph Langner whose team analyzed and cracked the Stuxnet code. [If you can't see the video below watch it on YouTube: http://youtu.be/CS01Hmjv1pQ]