Digital Weapons of Mass Destruction – Available Now!

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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:]


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About Tony Kinard

Digitally Innovative, Obsessively Creative, Fearless Advertising/Marketing Exec. For 16+ years I've had the honor of working with brilliant ad agencies, digital marketing innovators and technology vanguards. It's been amazingly fun and exciting work helping clients to successfully leverage tech innovations and new ideas. From scrappy startups to some of the best known brands in the world, I love the challenges they present. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some great ideas!

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  • Drew Hawkins

    New technology is always a two-sided coin. Powerful tools are just as easily used for bad as good. Hammers can help build things but can also but also inflict a lot of pain depending on whose hands they’re in. Good look at the potential dangers of new tech outside of the privacy debate.

    • @TonyKinard

      Some may argue that Struxnet was created for the greater good: it’s purpose aimed at denying Iran nuclear weapons capabilities… but in the process may have opened a Pandora’s box since, as Langner put it: “this weapon is generic”, meaning the concept and approach can be aimed at just about any industrial plant. I can see such a thing used in advanced commercial warfare between industrial/manufacturing giants. The stuff of great movie plots!

  • Vlad Gorenshteyn

    Great post. I first hear this on a weekend NPR program (I’m assuming that’s when there’s the least amount of people listing) Because the release of Stuxnet did not reach it’s full potential, there was speculation that this attack was a shot across the bow, a warning message to other countries, that “hey…we’re here, we have ‘the weapon’, and we’ve clearly penetrated your digital defenses…be warned.” This sounds all too familiar. Similarly, there are other digital weapons, perhaps less lethal but some would argue could do just as much damage (e.g. LOIC, or Low Orbit Ion Cannon, network Whatever the case, this is definitely “NOT your father’s” Cold-war fear. Let’s hope we can all resolve our differences diplomatically.