The Mystery of the Stuxnet Worm

As my husband will tell you, I am not a computer expert by any means. I know how to use    Microsoft Office and E-mail and maybe a few more applications. That’s it.

I even learned the hard way that computers get infected with all kinds of different bugs, such as viruses and worms.

A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself and infect a computer. The term “virus” is sometimes used as a catch-all phrase to include all types of malware, like spyware programs that do not have the ability to reproduce.

A true virus can spread from one computer to another; when it is sent over a network or the Internet, or carried it on a removable USB drive. Some viruses can also reproduce themselves.

I am told that viruses are sometimes also confused with worms and Trojan horses, which are technically different. A worm can exploit security vulnerabilities to spread itself automatically to other computers through networks, while a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless but hides malicious functions. Worms and Trojan horses, like viruses, may harm a computer system’s data or performance.

Now we hear that a powerful virus has shut down Iran’s nuclear facility. It’s a curious thing. Iran confirmed last Sunday that its nuclear program has been affected by a mysterious computer virus. The virus is called Stuxnet worm. Here is where I get confused. Is it now a virus or a worm or are they both the same in the computer world?

They say that this new Stuxnet worm has been popping up in industrial plants and personal computers worldwide, and is now posing a looming threat over Iran, where more than 60 percent of the computers infected with the virus are located.

According to Iran’s state-run Mehr news agency, the IP addresses of 30,000 or more  computer
systems have been infected by the worm. If indeed that many computers in Iran have been infected,
the worm may one day simultaneously shut down all the factories in Iran, including water plants,
power plants, bakeries, refineries etc. - To get that damage the virus works by specifically
attacking a piece of Siemens software running on Windows computers in industrial operations
ranging from electric grids and traffic lights to factories and power plants.
German experts claim to have uncovered evidence that Iran didn't even bother licensing the Siemens 
software that the worm/virus hijacked. So they can't call Siemens to complain!

Since Iran has suffered most of the infections, questions have been raised about whether the virus is connected to western governments’ top secret sabotage campaign against Tehran’s nuclear program. Some experts believe that virus, first discovered in June, was developed by high-level government programmers (possibly from the US, Israel, or Germany), and is directed toward a specific target, most likely Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. It is believed to have been around for over a year.

The mysterious country which produced this virus immobilized Iran’s nuclear plant without ever firing a shot. Wow, that’s really clever!

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