For the first time known, a computer virus has crossed a terrifying, exciting, and interesting threshold, in that order. The virus is called Stuxnet and has the ability to sense its surroundings. If Stuxnet finds what it’s looking for, it can infect the programmable logic units of real world machinery of the type which appears in robots, manufacturing devices, and nuclear power plants. Stuxnet is completely autonomous and requires no human action to complete its nefarious goal.
Cyber security experts say the super weapon is designed to specifically target a real-world target, but nobody knows what that target is. Most of the infected machines have been found in Iran, though, and many experts are guessing the virus is a “Precision Cyber-Missle” looking for the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Recently, Symantec reported that Stuxnet can apparently sabotage SCADA systems as well.
It’s probable the virus was written by a nation-state; the engineering, computing, and encryption routines required were too expensive and expansive for almost any other entity. Furthermore, nobody actually knows what the virus actually does. So far, it has infected dozens of computers and automated machines all over the middle east and in a few other locales, including the United States, and there it waits. For what, or when, or who Stuxnet waits, we do not know.
What most experts suspect, however, is that there is a near certainty that Stuxnet has already infected its actual target.