Computer security experts around the world are deeply concerned about a new strain of malware called the Stuxnet worm. Testifying to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Dean Turner, the director of Global Intelligence Network at Symantech Corp., said that there were as many as 44,000 new infections of the Stuxnet virus just last week.
About 60% of Stuxnet virus infections have occurred in Iran where the virus has appears to target nuclear power facilities. However of those 44,000 from last week, about 1,600 infections occurred in the United States.
So just what is it about Stuxnet that has security experts so concerned? In Turner's words the Stuxnet virus has "real world implications," that are, "beyond any threat we have seen in the past." Capable of targeting a wide range of industries, Stuxnet can penetrate a system, steal formulas or other intellectual property, alter those formulas on the infected database and completely blinder most existing antivirus software.
The virus is not presently a direct threat to most consumers as it specifically targets computers that use a combination of Windows and a control system that was developed by Siemens AG. However that combination of Windows and the Siemens control system is widely used in everything from automobile production to mixing chemicals.
Thankfully the people in charge are taking this new threat seriously. Senator Joe Lieberman has indicated that legislation designed to combat such threats will be made high priority upon lawmakers returning from the holidays in January.