What made the world’s first cyber-weapon so destructive?

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1. 21st Century warfare

In 2009, a malicious computer program smashed through a nuclear plant in Iran. The 'worm' – now known as Stuxnet – took control of 1,000 machines involved with producing nuclear materials, and instructed them to self-destruct.

This violent damage to 'real-world' infrastructure was the first that is known to have resulted from a cyber-attack. And only after months of repeated attacks did security experts piece together what had happened inside Iran's Natanz plant.

During the digital autopsy of this cyber-weapon, analysts made a shocking discovery. Stuxnet's highly advanced code had been designed with international warfare in mind.

2. Digital domain to physical demolition

How did a computer worm manage to physically smash 1,000 machines in a nuclear plant? Scroll through the timeline to see how Stuxnet achieved its goals in four simple steps.

3. CLICKABLE: Sophisticated and specific

How was the Stuxnet program designed to be so destructive? Click on the images below to find out.

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4. First of a new class of weapon

Stuxnet set the precedent for more major cyber-attacks. Since 2010, several have hit the headlines.

2012: Oil, Saudi Arabia

Two years after Stuxnet, oil firm Saudi Aramco was forced to remove 30,000 computers from its networks. A virus called Shamoon had wiped data on three-quarters of its corporate PCs and placed an image of a burning American flag in its place. Some security experts think the hack was a retaliation for the 2009 Stuxnet attack.

2013: ATMs, South Korea

Nearly seven months later, South Korea was hit by a flurry of cyber-attacks that shut down ATMs and television broadcasts. The virus, known as Dark Seoul, wasn’t as sophisticated as Stuxnet. Yet South Korean officials believe North Korea was to blame. North Korea denies the allegation.

2014: Entertainment industry, US

The following year, Sony Pictures Entertainment was attacked. Hacker group Guardians of Peace used a virus to steal pre-released films, internal emails, and information on executive salaries and employees. The hackers demanded that Sony stop the release of an upcoming film 'The Interview', a satire about a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea's involvement in the attack is, as yet, unconfirmed. But we can be certain of one thing – a new era of invisible, digital warfare has begun.