BEIJING — A computer virus dubbed the world’s “first cyber superweapon” by experts and which may have been designed to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities has found a new target — China.
The Stuxnet computer worm has wreaked havoc in China, infecting millions of computers around the country, state media reported this week.
Stuxnet is feared by experts around the globe as it can break into computers that control machinery at the heart of industry, allowing an attacker to assume control of critical systems like pumps, motors, alarms and valves.
It could, technically, make factory boilers explode, destroy gas pipelines or even cause a nuclear plant to malfunction.
The virus targets control systems made by German industrial giant Siemens commonly used to manage water supplies, oil rigs, power plants and other industrial facilities.
“This malware is specially designed to sabotage plants and damage industrial systems, instead of stealing personal data,” an engineer surnamed Wang at antivirus service provider Rising International Software told the Global Times.
“Once Stuxnet successfully penetrates factory computers in China, those industries may collapse, which would damage China’s national security,” he added.
The European Union’s European Networkand Information Security Agency will start working with the European Police Office, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, to track down hackers, officials said.
In addition, new laws will criminalize the creation of malicious botnets that turn computers into “zombies” that attack vital computer systems.
“To anyone thinking that cyberattacks are an abstract concept, I would say that for millions of people each year there are already direct practical consequences,” European digital-agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said at a news conference.
“When your money is quietly stolen from your bank account or your country is shut down, as happened to Estonia in 2007, the threat suddenly becomes very real,” she said.
Of particular concern are the Conficker botnet that takes over computers and commands them remotely by its authors, and the Stuxnet computer worm, which sabotages industrial computer systems, including at nuclear power plants.
Conflicker can steal money and classified information. It prevented French jet fighters from taking off last year and shut down British and German army Web sites, EUobserver reported.
Stuxnet is reported to have affected nuclear facilities in China and Iran, prompting speculation secret Israeli and U.S. intelligence services were involved, EUobserver said.
Researcher and former U.S. National Security Agency officer Charlie Miller told EUobserver last month a hostile power could devastate the EU for slightly more than $100 million and a team of 750 spies and hackers.
A result could be all EU countries suddenly without power, telephone and Internet service and air, rail and road transportation. Stock-exchange and bank transactions could be frozen, government data scrambled and military units cut off from central command or sent fake orders, Miller said.