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.
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.