• 11 SEP 13
    • 0

    Is the Stuxnet virus a significant threat to smart grid networks?

    The following was sent in by Rob Hutchins in New Zealand and is an email sent to Rob by Andrew Goldsworthy, retired biophysicist from Imperial College, London.

    Is this the “Achilles Heal” of the smart grid clown computing network?

    Don

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    Hi Rob.

    I watched a Horizon programme on BBC TV a week or two ago on computer hacking. It contained an interesting section on the Stuxnet virus, which was allegedly developed by the USA in collaboration with the Israelis to disrupt the Iranian nuclear programme. It can be introduced into the IT network by a USB stick or CD ROM running Windows, but then spreads to the industrial microprocessors running purpose-built software. In the Iranian case, it increased the speed of the centrifuges in their uranium enrichment plant so that they exploded.

    Stuxnet is an extremely clever piece of computer code that may lie dormant in the control gear, perhaps for months, recording what the device was doing and then activated itself to disrupt that process and at the same time kid the process monitors that everything was still OK. The Iranians literally didn’t know what had hit them.

    It transpires that the same virus can carry other payloads; e.g. to turn computer-controlled valves on and off without anyone knowing until it is too late. The worrying thing is that this virus is now out in the wild and can attack pretty much any computer-controlled equipment, which presumably includes wireless smart meters. According Symantec (best known for its Norton Antivirus product) this virus has now spread to many countries including European states and the USA. See http://www.symantec.com/connect/blogs/stuxnet-05-missing-link

    Is this why British Gas has been instructed to remove all of its smart meters as soon as possible? If the virus could turn our gas and electricity supplies on and off at random (which should not be too difficult for an experienced hacker to arrange) it could cause widespread disruption and, in the case of gas meters, result in many explosions as flames became extinguished and then failed to reignite properly when the supply returned.

    This, in itself is a very good reason to oppose the installation of smart meters and, if it became widely known, could result in something approaching public panic. Interestingly, all Horizon programmes, including this, one have now been deleted from BBC iPlayer.

    Best wishes

    Andrew Goldsworthy

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