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    Stuxnet, America's Nuclear Plant-Attacking Virus, Has Apparently Infected the International Space Station (Update: Apparently Not)

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: Wikimedia

    [Update: Turns out that Kaspersky wasn't specifically claiming that Stuxnet had infected the ISS; he was noting that it's vulnerable, and has been infected by malware before. He did in fact claim that Stuxnet had infected a Russian nuke plant. Apologies for the confusion.]

    Good news, patriots: One of America's finest may again be heading into the final frontier. But this time it's Stuxnet, the malware worm that the US and Israel designed to cripple Iran's nuclear program. Both a 2012 report from The New York Times and recent revelations from Edward Snowden all but confirmed that the US was behind the virus—and has lost control of it. The malware is now evidently attacking nuke plants as far away as Russia and climbing aboard the International Space Station.

    Stuxnet proliferates indiscriminately, but harbors malware designed to infect the industrial control hardware of nuclear power plants. As Ars Technica explains, "The goal of the worm was to break Iranian nuclear centrifuge equipment ... By doing so, both governments hoped to set back the Iranian research program—and the US hoped to keep Israel from launching a pre-emptive military attack."

    It wasn't supposed to spread beyond Iran's nascent nuke plants, but of course it did. Traipsing across the globe like any good epidemic, Stuxnet has now surfaced all the way across the continent. Speaking at the Canberra Press Club 2013 in Australia, renowned IT specialist Eugeney Kaspersky claimed that Stuxnet had infiltrated a plant in Russia. 

    "Everything you do is a boomerang," he said. "It will get back to you."

    According to the UK's Register, "The Kaspersky Lab founder claimed that a 'friend' of his, working at the unnamed power plant, sent him a message that its internal network, which was disconnected from the internet, had been 'badly infected by Stuxnet'.

    How is that possible? Stuxnet is traveling not only via network connections, but through USB sticks and CD-Roms. Many of the plants it's capable of infecting aren't even connected to the internet—they're too old, and therefore exceptionally vulnerable. And Stuxnet is, increasingly, everywhere. 

    Kaskersky claims that the virus was uploaded onto the International Space Station when an astronaut brought an infected USB into orbit. "Russian space guys" told him that the ISS had, as a result, been infected "from time to time." As in, more than once. 

    Which of course means that there are plenty of frontiers left for the little nuke-disabling virus that could—and security experts are worried that it's heading to the UK, France, even home to the US. You know, from whence it came. 

    Experts from the security firms FireEye and F-Secure told the UK tech site V3 that it's "likely" that many power plants outside of Iran and Russia have already "fallen victim to the malware."

    Jason Steer, security director of FireEye, told V3 that "It's highly likely that other plants globally are infected and will continue to be infected as it's in the wild and we will see on a weekly basis businesses trying to figure out how to secure the risk of infected USB flash drives."

    "When a PC is infected," Steer said, "the malware does many clever things, including not showing all the things that are on the USB so it's impossible to know if the USB is to be trusted or not..."

    So one of America's most spy novel-worthy exports is now spreading around the globe, and may even end up giving us a taste of our own medicine. And it's wormed its way into space, too—if Kaspersky's sources are correct, Stuxnet is in orbit as you read these words.