Virus targets Siemens industrial control systems

* Stuxnet worm travels via infected USB drives

* Exploits vulnerability in Windows

* Microsoft says it has yet to patch vulnerability

By Jim Finkle

BOSTON, July 19 (BestGrowthStock) – Hackers have built a computer
virus that attacks Siemens AG’s (SIEGn.DE: ) widely used
industrial control systems, creating malicious software that
analysts said can be used for espionage and sabotage.

The German company said the malware is a Trojan worm dubbed
Stuxnet that spreads via infected USB thumb drives, exploiting
a yet-to-be-patched vulnerability in Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O: )
Windows operating system.

“Just viewing the contents of the USB stick can activate
the Trojan,” said Siemens spokesman Alexander Machowetz.
“Siemens recommends avoiding the use of a USB stick.”

Siemens first learned of the problem on July 14, he said.

Stuxnet is among the first to surface that attacks software
programs that run Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or
SCADA, systems. Such systems are used to monitor automated
plants — from food and chemical facilities to power
generators.

Once the worm infects a Siemens system, it quickly sets up
communications with a remote server computer that can be used
to steal proprietary corporate data or take control of the
SCADA system, said Randy Abrams, a researcher with ESET, a
privately held security firm that has studied Stuxnet.

Analysts said attackers may have chosen to spread the
malicious software via a thumb drive because many SCADA systems
are not connected to the Internet, but do sport USB ports.

Siemens said it has so far only identified one customer
whose SCADA systems were infected by the virus, a customer in
Germany that Machowetz declined to identify by name.

Security experts have long theorized that hackers —
including ones working for nation states or terrorist groups —
would one day develop viruses that target SCADA systems. They
could be used to steal sensitive data or sabotage major
infrastructure facilities by instructing software to attack
those plants.

“It could be very valuable to a nation-state for war-like
espionage. It could be very valuable to terrorist
organizations,” said ESET’s Abrams.

Microsoft spokesman Jerry Bryant said he did not know when
the company would update its Windows software to address the
vulnerability that Stuxnet exploits.

Now that the exploit has been publicized, other hackers
will quickly rush to develop malicious software programs that
take advantage of the same vulnerability, said McAfee Inc
(MFE.N: ) spokesman Joris Evers.

Siemens, Microsoft and security experts who have studied
the Stuxnet worm have yet to determine who created the
malicious software.

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Virus targets Siemens industrial control systems