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The thin line between good and evil

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One of the most frustrating worm that gained international notoriety was the “Sasser” worm. Once a Windows 2000/XP computer was infected with it, pop ups with a count down timer would appear and after the 1 minute countdown, the worm would automatically shut down that computer.

As defined by Wikipedia, the term “malware” is “a software designed to secretly access a computer system without the owner’s informed consent, and is termed by computer professionals as a variety of hostile, intrusive or annoying software or program code”. And a “computer worm” as defined as “self replicating malware computer program, which uses a computer network to send copies of itself to other nodes and it may do so without any user intervention.

So a computer worm is a “hostile” piece of code designed to cause great harm to your computer right? So it’s a really bad piece of code that aims to wreak havoc to innocent victims and its creators must be a really evil person right? Or at least, its creator must have been someone who didn’t harbor good intentions during the production of a computer virus, right?

But how if a computer virus can actually save the world?

Sounds cliche?

Well, it actually is. Just not too long ago, a computer worm named “Stuxnet” actually did something like this.

This map shows the amount of computers that carried the “Stuxnet worm.  Iran is highlighted in red, with the most amount of infected instances of “Stuxnet”. Nuclear enriching plants located in Iran was reportedly the target for “Stuxnet”.

Rumored to be coded by the American and Israeli government, this worm does nothing to the normal computer. Other then duplicating itself and sending itself via internet that the infected computer is connected, this worm did not do anything to normal computers.

But once this worm detects a particular industrial Siemens controller, typically used to control uranium enriching centrifuges, the worm takes control of the controller, spinning the centrifuges in speed excess of what it is designed for, and destroying it.

These uranium, when enriched, can be used to create nuclear weapons.

The worm is so well written, that it could actually circumvent protection and alert systems used to monitor any malfunction on these controllers.

The aim of Stuxnet, according to some experts, is to silently destroy key nuclear enriching facilities that Iran reportedly have, and are not too forthcoming in declaring the actual use of such destructive material.

In fact, the Stuxnet worm was so specifically written that after programmers examined code, they found that a section of the code is designed to target 984 machines linked together. Later when an official visited Iran’s key uranium enriching plant, they found exactly 984 machines out of commission.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned recently that Iran’s nuclear efforts have been put back by a few years, before they could get back to the pre-Stuxnet state.

Stuxnet is not the only worm that people considered to be helpful to the world, there was another worm known as Nachi, which aims to plug a known security hole in Microsoft Windows systems.

So, while worms and viruses are scary in today’s connected world, I believe it is the intent of worm/virus programmers that actually matters between being a cyber-criminal or a cyber-hero.


Written by garygoh

March 13, 2011 at 12:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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