Source code for the sophisticated Stuxnet worm has reportedly made it onto underground forums where it is been offered up for sale at some unspecified price.
This not entirely unexpected development, first reported by Sky News, has prompted the satellite TV channel to get for broke with a loosely substantiated story sensationally headlined "Super Virus A Target For Cyber Terrorists". Sky quotes unnamed senior IT security sources sources to report the "virus is in the hands of bad guys".
The malware could now be adapted and used to shut down power stations, "the transport network across the UK" and the 999 system, according to Will Gilpin, an IT security consultant to the UK government. Gilpin goes on to conclude, at the end of an accompanying video report, that we're a generation behind and have already lost the war in cyberspace.
These dire warnings of doom are nothing more than alarmist claptrap, according to Paul Ducklin of Sophos, who criticises the report for stating assumptions as fact as well as for sensationalism.
Ducklin is far more worried about the very real problem posed by cybercrooks raiding bank accounts and subverting payment systems, a concern we wholeheartedly share.
"The problem with inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible stories about Stuxnet - good though they may be for page impressions and video views - is that they make cybercriminality sound like a second-rate problem when it is positioned against a news backdrop alleging cyberwar," Ducklin writes.
Stuxnet is highly sophisticated worm that selectively targets industrial control systems from Siemens. The most well-publicised incident of infection was at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran but it's far from clear if the worm sabotaged systems carrying out uranium enrichment at Natanz or at Iran's controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant, which has been subject to delays. It's even less clear who developed the malware.
Whoever created the code used four Windows zero-day vulnerabilities, now exposed, and must have done a great deal of testing on industrial control systems. Adapting the worm for another target would take a almost equivalent level of expertise.
The idea that "cyberterrorists" are poised to unleash variants of this malware at 999 systems or the UK transport network belongs in the same category as claims that Iraq might be able to deploy biological weapons within 45 minutes in discredited documents published by the UK government prior to the start of the disastrous invasion of the country.
It really is that bad.
Stuxnet is a complex threat, and the Iranian nuclear angle certainly adds spice, so it's a bit easy for the general media to get a bit carried away. For a very good – non-sensationalist – info on the Stuxnet worm we can offer no better resource than F-Secure's well-written redux here. ®