Computer Science

The Computer Virus Stuxnet Almost Prompted World War III

Could a computer virus start a war? In 2010, a computer virus called Stuxnet proved that's very much in the realm of possibility.

Code to Rule Them All

In 2010, a computer virus that was 20 times more complex than any previous virus code was found in the data banks of power plants, traffic control systems, and factories all over the world. Stuxnet, which has been called "cyber warfare's Hiroshima," had the ability to turn off the pressure inside nuclear reactors and switch off oil pipelines. Not only that, Stuxnet could tell the system operators that everything was running as normal when it was not. The virus had one central mission: to shut down the centrifuges that spin nuclear material at Iran's enrichment facilities.

Brave New Warfare

Stuxnet was the world's first weapon made entirely out of code. As documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney tells Recode, computer warfare in the past involved situations where "people were hacking, they were breaking in, they were stealing computer code, they were shutting down your computer. But in this case, the code is actually infecting the machines that operate the other machines. Now they're shutting down devices that are not computers."

But who is behind it? It's still a mystery. There are rumors it is Israel, the United States, or the company Siemens. Neither the U.S. nor Israel has confirmed any involvement with Stuxnet.

For the whole story, check out "Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon" by Kim Zetter. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Stuxnet: The Virus that Almost Started WW3

Written by Joanie Faletto April 12, 2017

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