Reuters reports: Global energy infrastructure is more vulnerable than ever in an escalating cyber war thanks to “sons of Stuxnet” electronic missiles, which can be created from the virus designed to sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme.
Cyber espionage is on the rise, with Chinese hackers stealing field data and cutting-edge technology from energy companies around the world since at least 2009, according to leading security firm McAfee (part of Intel Corp ).
But the biggest threat to everything from power grids to digital oilfields may come from malware based on the Stuxnet worm, widely thought to have been sponsored by western government agencies, security experts say.
Cyber weapons like Stuxnet that can take control of plants appear to be more of an operational danger than the recently-discovered Flame virus, which seems designed to gather data.
“Stuxnet really showed people you could do this, that is the problem. I cannot imagine any major government agency not developing an offensive capability,” Eric Byres, a leading authority on critical infrastructure security, told Reuters.
Byres, who advises governments and multinationals on cyber security, said government agencies could seek to infiltrate energy infrastructure in case of political tension. “That is one of the risks, that we are weaponizing our entire energy industry, or leaving weapons inside it, just in case.”
Governments are concerned that energy and communications networks would be the first victims of any conflict with a cyber-savvy aggressor.
“It is believed that would be part of any form of warfare – that they would take out private sector infrastructures as part of knocking out a country,” said Paul Dorey, who managed BP’s digital security until 2008 and is now professor of information security at the University of London.
The stable relationship between the United States, Russia and China, means there seems little chance of they will try to disrupt one another’s energy networks any time soon.
But Iran has been bombarded with cyber bugs during its intense nuclear standoff with the west, with the virus known as Flame detected in April and a worm called Duqu, designed to gather intelligence on industrial infrastructure for future attacks, found last year.