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Stuxnet Attack: The New Face of Cyber ​​Warfare

In the current century, the cyber field has begun to grow very rapidly. Although this situation has many advantages in our lives, it has also brought about many crimes and cyber attacks, including nation states, and has initiated the formation of cyber security problems for states and a great competition in this field. Meryem Orak (2021) described this situation in her article Cyber ​​Armies And Cyber ​​Wars as follows; "In the face of developing world technologies, cyber armies and cyber weapons have begun to come into play alongside traditional armies and traditional weapons." This being the case, in this blog I will discuss in detail how the Stuxnet attack targeting Iran's nuclear power plants, which is described as the most serious cyber attack of the 21st century, was discovered, its functioning, goals and results.


Discovery and Spread of Stuxnet


Stuxnet
Stuxnet Attack: The New Face of Cyber ​​Warfare

Stuxnet, first discovered in 2010 by VirusBlokAda, a Belarusian security firm, is considered to be the first computer virus in the most advanced and complex version developed for nuclear power plant sabotage in human history. Investigations into the observation of abnormal behavior in industrial systems in Iran revealed that Stuxnet targeted industrial control systems produced by Siemens. It was understood that the worm specifically targeted the centrifuges used in Iran's nuclear facilities in Natanz.


Stuxnet spread by exploiting four zero-day vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system. This was unprecedented at the time because zero-day exploits are extremely valuable and are generally used in very limited numbers. However, Stuxnet managed to infiltrate industrial control systems by effectively using these vulnerabilities.


How Stuxnet Works


The operation of Stuxnet has a very complex and sophisticated structure. When the worm infects computers, it first checks whether the system is using Siemens Step7 software. This software is used to program industrial control systems and was the primary target of Stuxnet.


If Step7 software is not installed, Stuxnet hides itself and does no harm. However, if the software is installed, Stuxnet steps in and modifies the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) code. These code changes include commands that control the speed of the centrifuges. As a result, centrifuges begin to run faster or slower than normal, leading to damage to the physical devices.


Stuxnet also uses advanced techniques to disguise itself. The worm hides the PLC codes it changes, making it difficult for operators to notice these changes. This allows the attack to continue undetected for long periods of time.


Goals and Results


It is clear that the primary target of Stuxnet is Iran's nuclear program. The damage to the centrifuges used at the Natanz nuclear facility significantly affected Iran's uranium enrichment capacity. This attack revealed how much damage cyber warfare can cause to critical infrastructures in the physical world.


SCADA
SCADA Systems

There have been various speculations about the creators and purpose of Stuxnet. Many experts claim that the attack was state-sponsored and developed specifically by the United States and Israel to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. However, these claims have never been officially confirmed.


Stuxnet represents the beginning of a new era in the world of cybersecurity. This is the first time that a cyber attack has had such a large impact on the physical world and targeted industrial control systems. This situation has caused states and institutions to reconsider their approach to cyber security.


Effects of Stuxnet and Its Reflections on the Future


The discovery of Stuxnet and its effects had wide repercussions in the cybersecurity world. This attack revealed how vulnerable industrial control systems and critical infrastructures are. It also reminded us once again how important cyber security is for states and large organizations.


Following Stuxnet, many countries began making major investments to increase their cyber defense capacities. More advanced security measures have begun to be taken, especially to protect critical infrastructures. Additionally, the methods used by Stuxnet became a source of inspiration for other cyber attackers and paved the way for similar attacks.


Nowadays, cyber warfare and cyber espionage activities are increasing and becoming more complex. Stuxnet is an example of how effective such attacks can be and cause serious damage in the physical world. Therefore, it is necessary to constantly develop innovative and effective defense mechanisms in the field of cyber security.


Stuxnet is an attack that is considered a turning point in the history of cyber security and reveals the seriousness of the concept of cyber warfare. This worm, which causes great damage to the physical world by targeting industrial control systems, has radically changed the approaches of states and institutions to cyber security. The discovery of Stuxnet and its effects once again emphasize the importance of cyber security and show that we must be better prepared against similar attacks in the future.


Stuxnet's legacy is still felt in the cybersecurity world, and countering such attacks is crucial in a world where technology and attack techniques are constantly evolving.




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