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09.24.10

Who Needs Windows Back Doors When It’s So Insecure?

Posted in Asia, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 3:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Mohammad Mosaddeq

Summary: Stuxnet is allegedly part of a plan to infect computer systems in Iran for political reasons, according to an increasing body of evidence

SO, it’s starting to look like Stuxnet [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] was part of a plot to derail Iran’s nuclear programme [1, 2]. Stuxnet makes use of zero-day Windows vulnerabilities rather than back doors. Will governments finally realise that foreign governments can use Windows against them? Software freedom is essential to one’s autonomy.

The debate about Stuxnet and Iran is only starting. So far we’ve come across the following reports (there are many more):

i. Advanced Computer Worm Was Specifically Designed to Attack Iranian Nuclear Reactor, Experts Say

The sophisticated computer worm called Stuxnet, which has been targeting industrial operations around the world, was likely designed to take out Iran’s new Bushehr nuclear reactor, cybersecurity experts say. It’s the first known cyber-super-weapon designed to destroy a real-world target, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

Researchers studying the worm say it was built by an advanced attacker with plentiful resources — possibly a nation-state. Initially, experts thought it was designed for industrial espionage, but upon examining its code, they now think it was built for sabotage.

ii. Synchronize Your OpenOffice Documents With Google Docs, Zoho And WebDAV Servers Using Ooo2gd

iii. Microsoft confirms it missed Stuxnet print spooler ‘zero-day’

Contrary to reports, a bug that Microsoft patched last week had been publicly discussed a year and a half ago, security researchers said this week.

Microsoft confirmed Wednesday that it overlooked the vulnerability when it was revealed last year.

The vulnerability in Windows Print Spooler service was one of four exploited by Stuxnet, a worm that some have suggested was crafted to sabotage an Iranian nuclear reactor.

iv. Stuxnet virus may be aimed at Iran nuclear reactor

A highly sophisticated computer worm that has spread through Iran, Indonesia and India was built to destroy operations at one target: possibly Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor.

That’s the emerging consensus of security experts who have examined the Stuxnet worm. In recent weeks, they’ve broken the cryptographic code behind the software and taken a look at how the worm operates in test environments. Researchers studying the worm all agree that Stuxnet was built by a very sophisticated and capable attacker, possibly a nation state, and it was designed to destroy something big.

[...]

One of the things that Langner discovered is that when Stuxnet finally identifies its target, it makes changes to a piece of Siemens code called Organisational Block 35. This Siemens component monitors critical factory operations, things that need a response within 100 milliseconds. By messing with Operational Block 35, Stuxnet could easily cause a refinery’s centrifuge to malfunction, but it could be used to hit other targets too, Byres said. “The only thing I can say is that it is something designed to go bang,” he said.

Whoever created Stuxnet developed four previously unknown zero-day attacks and a peer-to-peer communications system, compromised digital certificates belonging to Realtek Semiconductor and JMicron Technology, and displayed extensive knowledge of industrial systems. This is not something that your run-of-the-mill hacker can pull off. Many security researchers think that it would take the resources of a nation state to accomplish.

[...]

Now that the Stuxnet attack is public, the industrial control systems industry has come of age in an uncomfortable way. And clearly it will have more things to worry about. “The problem is not Stuxnet. Stuxnet is history,” said Langner. “The problem is the next generation of malware that will follow.”

Any politically-motived Windows worm shows that technology and politics cannot be separated and they come at a high cost to the public (a side effect). Some people point fingers at Israeli hackers.

Malware believed to be targeting Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant may have been created by Israeli hackers

[...]

However Graham Cluley, senior consultant with the online security company Sophos, warned against jumping to conclusions about the target of the attack, saying “sensationalist” headlines were “a worry”. Clulely is wary of reports linking Stuxnet with Israel: “It’s very hard to prove 100% who created a piece of malware, unless you are able to gather evidence from the computer they created it on – or if someone admits it, of course.”

But he said that its characteristics did not suggest a lone group. “I think we need to be careful about pointing fingers without proof, and I think it’s more appropriate – if true – to call this a state-sponsored cyber attack rather than cyber terrorism.”

Stuxnet works by exploiting previously unknown security holes in Microsoft’s Windows operating system. It then seeks out a component called Simatic WinCC, manufactured by Siemens, which controls critical factory operations. The malware even uses a stolen cryptographic key belonging to the Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturer RealTek to validate itself in high-security factory systems.

Should the whole world be flooded with Windows worms just because of political altercations of few nations? Should a better operating system like GNU/Linux be used to mitigate international threats. When does the cyber threat become greater than nuclear threats in an age when everything from food production to energy extraction [1, 2] and travel depends on connected computers? Without energy and transportation, food cannot be grown, cultivated, and delivered; that is where the most fundamental needs can or cannot be met, especially at times of natural disaster or war, so leaving one’s critical systems (that’s almost any system) under Microsoft’s reign is a strategic blunder. Proprietary software is subjected to the sovereignty of its sole maker.

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