Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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You may have seen the term Stuxnet appear in news headlines. You likely rolled your eyebrows thinking "not another one" before scanning the next article for something newsworthy.
No precautions necessary for the average computer user for this one. It doesn't target home computers or mobile devices. It doesn't try to steal credentials or present a security threat to consumers. It wasn't created by a bored teenager with more talent than scruples.
Just imagine a cyber attack capable of disrupting New York City's power grid. Unthinkable chaos would ensue as engineers scramble to repair the damage.
Worse yet, consider a worm capable of dismantling America's defense system.
This is no sci-fi scenario for Iran. In summer of 2010, the country announced their nuclear enrichment centrifuges were the target of a cyber attack. As news is slow to leak out of the country, details and extent of the damage are only now emerging. And they're enough to frighten even Isaac Asimov.
The Stuxnet worm itself was widespread in selected countries. The greatest penetration was detected in Iran and Indonesia with lesser numbers uncovered in India.
The worm was designed to scan its host computer in search of a particular string of code. Once found, it would unleash itself and execute commands to dismantle one particular piece of equipment.
In order to succeed, the developers had to first gain access to specific industrial control system (ICS) schematics. They had to update Stuxnet with code targeting that ICS.
A mirrored development environment had to be created. This required millions of dollars and access to restricted hardware. You can't just buy a nuclear enrichment centrifuge on eBay.
It probably took a team of five to 10 developers a good six months to develop and test the code. The code then had to be introduced into a test target environment.
It first had to enter through a network setting and propagate to a non-ICS system. It then had to be modified to affect the ICS system through USB sharing.
Yes, folks, you read that correctly. Penetrating a nuclear enrichment facility wasn't going to be easy. The Stuxnet developers distributed the code to home computers expecting a facility worker would bring work home and store their efforts on a flash drive.
Great effort was put into distributing the code. But far greater effort was still required to seek out that one specific computer and deploy the destruction commands.
While still in the test target environment, the code would first have to scan the equipment's Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) to learn if it was manufactured by a specific Iranian or Finnish company known to be used in these centrifuges.
It had to record the normal behavior of the PLC and execute a sequence of commands that would rapidly slow down and speed up the motors. All the while, normal behavior indicators had to be displayed on the operator's console. And the emergency stop button had to be disabled.
Stuxnet eventually found its target computer. Once unleashed, the centrifuge's motor began racing out of control. The operator heard the engine revving despite normal indicators being displayed. He hit the stop switch to no avail. The rpm's ran so high that the motor blew up.
So who did this? A line of code in the worm gives us a clue. It looked for a specific date appearing in a computer's registry. If it appeared, the computer would not be infected. The date happened to be the same date an Israeli spy was executed, indicating it was either an Israeli sympathizer or someone who wanted to shift suspicion that way.
Israel did purchase the same centrifuges used in Iran and ran them in a test complex. Many suspect Stuxnet to be the work of Israeli or U.S. intelligence. Or both.
This is the first time a cyber attack targeted systems that control equipment, something designed to cross from the virtual world into the physical world and cause destruction. It set Iran's nuclear program back two years.
Fears of future cyber attacks, in addition to concerns over Social Media affecting the country's grip of power, have prompted Iran to explore plans to create their own Internet separate from that accessed by the rest of the world.
Local infrastructure systems using industrial control systems must now design overlapping controls so there's a backup for any system that may fail.
Stuxnet already has variants. Duqu, first discovered in October 2011 and thought dormant, re-emerged just last month. It's been found in Iran, Sudan, India, Vietnam, Ukraine, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands posing as a Microsoft driver. What will it target?
Some security experts suspect it's designed to steal data from ICS in Iran and Europe, others think it will steal authentication certificates that websites use to verify their identities.
All can agree whatever results it yields will not be pretty for the victim.
Coming Soon to a Street Near You
New York's International Auto Show is in full gear. As has become customary, the show offers a sneak peak at what you'll soon see in the showroom.
Infiniti's LE will be the first all-electric upscale sedan on the market. Patterned after parent company Nissan's Leaf, it uses the same 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack in conjunction with a standard 50-kW quick-charge port.
No bulky electric cable to plug in. The car's underside contains a wireless charger. A magnetic current between electric coils installed in the ground and in the car charges the battery.
The LE offers drivers access to Google search and the ability to send Google directions directly to the car's navigation system. Not only will the driver be able to see locations of nearby electric-car chargers, but they'll also see which ones are in use in real time.
The LE includes Intel's dual-view center display screen, which allows the driver to view navigation information while showing a movie only the passenger can see.
Watch for it to hit showrooms spring of 2014.
It's a Land Rover. It's a convertible. It's a small SUV with a power retractable soft top roof and rollover protection system. The two-door, four-seat Evoque hopes to gain a share of the market currently held by only the Jeep Wrangler. This open-top SUV more closely resembles a sports car. And performs like one too, being powered by a Ford turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Fuel saving technology is the focus of concept cars unveiled at this year's auto show. The Mazda Takeri embodies a host of these technologies, beginning with a 2.2 liter SkyActiv diesel engine. The Takeri has an auto stop/start system, which restarts in one engine cycle rather than the standard two. Fuel economy is expected to improve by up to 10 percent.
Take a Volkswagen Passat. Add 1.2 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive. Power it by a 148 hp, 2.0 liter turbodiesel with 236 lb.-ft of torque and a six-speed DSG automated manual gearbox. You've got the new Volkswagen Alltrack.
It's not built to stay confined to roads. Steel skid-plates and an off-road electronics program take it off the beaten path. The off-road package holds higher engine revs, reduces throttle response and reprograms the anti-lock breaks for better stopping performance.
High-tech connectivity is becoming mainstream. Both the 2013 Nissan Altima and the 2014 Chevrolet Impala will include options such as USB ports, voice-recognition, touch screen controls, a Bluetooth connection and streaming Pandora Internet radio.
Markets experienced steep declines today, as new worries surfaced about the fragile economic recovery. Some analysts point no further than the front page of the Thursday, April 5, 2012 Wall Street Journal, which displayed the headline "Markets Fear End of Stimulus." In a nutshell, although the stimulus was not very effective in empirical terms, it did provide some artificial fiscal stimulus. Now, as many of the stimulus components have been exhausted, there is some fear that this contraction, however small, could rock what has been a very slow and lethargic recovery.
Had the government been wise enough to focus the stimulus solely on public infrastructure improvements, the economic activity associated with such things as new roads, bridges and airports would be just now triggering a new round of economic growth. Sadly, the stimulus that was passed had no such focus, so the worries are real.
But, hopefully you are, for the moment, more likely to be wondering about the next chapter in our Seabiscuit story. So here goes....
Last week you heard how an unlikely team of horsemen somehow managed to take an unlikely runt of a colt and astonish the world by dethroning War Admiral, the perfect racehorse, in a match race watched by millions. The year was 1938 and it was on the bottom of the backstretch at Pimilco Racetrack that Georgie Wolff coined the famous phrase, "So long Charlie!" his farewell to Charlie Kurtsinger aboard the mighty War Admiral, as Seabiscuit sped away. George Wolff was actually a pinch hitter in that race, as regular jockey Red Pollard lay in traction at a nearby hospital - from an injury suffered while exercising another horse.
Wolff went on to ride Seabiscuit in a dizzying string of victories. Red watched from the rail, trying unsuccessfully it seemed, to dispel the notion that he would never ride again. His shattered leg simply would not heal. Yet he desperately wanted to ride Seabiscuit one last time to win the Santa Anita Handicap, the race that he had cheated Seabiscuit out of, by his own very stupid mistake. Red wanted to show the world, one last time, that Seabiscuit could win it. In fact, the previous year George Wolff had also lost the race aboard Seabiscuit, getting trapped in the pack and not breaking free soon enough to prevail.
The Santa Anita Handicap, launched with publicity by their very own Charles Howard - Seabiscuit's owner, became known as "The Hundred Grander" - for the very rich purse that Howard and the track owner decided would draw the very best thoroughbreds from across the country. Indeed it worked, and The Handicap became one of the most sought after prizes in racing. The Howard stable had won the race the previous year when Kayak II swept to victory. Many thought this would satisfy Howard, establishing his stable as one of the top in the nation. But virtually everyone in the Howard stable thought Seabiscuit deserved to win the big race - twice snatched from him.
In actuality, calling Red Pollard Seabiscuit's jockey would have been misleading. Seabiscuit and Red Pollard were virtual soul mates spending untold hours together, more like a pet and owner than a jockey and racehorse. It was all conducive to the warm and caring atmosphere ever so present in the benevolent Charles Howard stable. And Seabiscuit was the Prince, the horse Red called Pops. One track writer quipped, "They should spend more time training and less time kissing and hugging that damn horse." Such characterizations only amused Charles Howard.
But then the chances of another Seabiscuit start seemed permanently dashed when during a race, with Woolf aboard, the aging Seabiscuit took a bad step and seriously injured his left foreleg. The x-rays were conclusive: Seabiscuit had a career ending injury. The veterinarian dutifully offered to put the horse down - euthanasia in equine circles. Charles Howard was appalled, as he thought of Seabiscuit as much a pet as a racehorse.
Howard wanted to know if Seabiscuit could be rehabilitated. "Not likely." was the vet's response. Despite the vet's opinion, trainer Tom Smith believed it could be done over an extended period of time, using his unconventional therapy. Next, Howard wanted to know if Seabiscuit would suffer in pain. No, the vet admitted, but he would never be much good as a racehorse, and probably not good for breeding either.
The vet was visibly astonished that Howard would even consider the time and expense required to rehabilitate the broken down racehorse. He finally exclaimed, "Mr. Howard, fixing this horse will cost a small fortune!" To which Howard reportedly responded, "Then it is a good thing I have a large fortune."
The decision was made: Seabiscuit would be spared. Seabiscuit was moved to the Howard ranch where Charles Howard was content to allow his favorite horse live out the rest of his days relaxing under the juniper trees. Stay tuned....
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