Cover image for Countdown to Zero Day : Stuxnet and the launch of the world's first digital weapon
Title:
Countdown to Zero Day : Stuxnet and the launch of the world's first digital weapon
Author:
Zetter, Kim, author.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, [2014]
Physical Description:
433 pages ; 25 cm
Summary:
"This story of the virus that destroyed Iran's nuclear centrifuges, by top cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter, shows that the door has been opened on a new age of warfare--one in which a digital attack can have the same destructive capability as a megaton bomb dropped from an airplane"--

"Top cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter tells the story behind the virus that sabotaged Iran's nuclear efforts and shows how its existence has ushered in a new age of warfare-- one in which a digital attack can have the same destructive capability as a megaton bomb. In January 2010, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency noticed that centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant were failing at an unprecedented rate. The cause was a complete mystery-- apparently as much to the technicians replacing the centrifuges as to the inspectors observing them. Then, five months later, a seemingly unrelated event occurred; a computer security firm in Belarus was called in to troubleshoot some computers in Iran that were crashing and rebooting repeatedly. At first, the firm's programmers believed the malicious code on the machines was a simple, routine piece of malware. But as they and other experts around the world investigated, they discovered a mysterious virus of unparalleled complexity. They had, they soon learned, stumbled upon the world's first digital weapon. For Stuxnet, as it came to be known, was unlike any other virus or worm built before; rather than simply hijacking targeted computers or stealing information from them, it escaped the digital realm to wreak actual, physical destruction on a nuclear facility. In these pages, Wired journalist Kim Zetter draws on her extensive sources and expertise to tell the story behind Stuxnet's planning, execution, and discovery, covering its genesis in the corridors of Bush's White House and its unleashing on systems in Iran--and telling the spectacular, unlikely tale of the security geeks who managed to unravel a sabotage campaign years in the making. But Countdown to Zero Day ranges far beyond Stuxnet itself. Here, Zetter shows us how digital warfare developed in the US. She takes us inside today's flourishing zero-day "grey markets, " in which intelligence agencies and militaries pay huge sums for the malicious code they need to carry out infiltrations and attacks. She reveals just how vulnerable many of our own critical systems are to Stuxnet-like strikes, from nation-state adversaries and anonymous hackers alike-- and shows us just what might happen should our infrastructure be targeted by such an attack. Propelled by Zetter's unique knowledge and access, and filled with eye-opening explanations of the technologies involved, Countdown to Zero Day is a comprehensive and prescient portrait of a world at the edge of a new kind of war. "--
Language:
English
Contents:
The case of the centrifuges -- Early warning -- 500 kilobytes of mystery -- Natanz -- Stuxnet deconstructed -- Springtime for Ahmadinejad -- digging for zero days -- Zero-day paydays -- The payload -- Industrial controls out of control -- Precision weapon -- A digital plot is hatched -- A new fighting domain -- Digital warheads -- Son of Stuxnet -- Flame -- Olympic Games -- The mystery of the centrifuges -- Qualified success -- Digital Pandora.
ISBN:
9780770436179

9780770436193
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Top cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter tells the story behind the virus that sabotaged Iran's nuclear efforts and shows how its existence has ushered in a new age of warfare--one in which a digital attack can have the same destructive capability as a megaton bomb.

In January 2010, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency noticed that centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant were failing at an unprecedented rate. The cause was a complete mystery--apparently as much to the technicians replacing the centrifuges as to the inspectors observing them.

Then, five months later, a seemingly unrelated event occurred: A computer security firm in Belarus was called in to troubleshoot some computers in Iran that were crashing and rebooting repeatedly.

At first, the firm's programmers believed the malicious code on the machines was a simple, routine piece of malware. But as they and other experts around the world investigated, they discovered a mysterious virus of unparalleled complexity.

They had, they soon learned, stumbled upon the world's first digital weapon. For Stuxnet, as it came to be known, was unlike any other virus or worm built before: Rather than simply hijacking targeted computers or stealing information from them, it escaped the digital realm to wreak actual, physical destruction on a nuclear facility.

In these pages, Wired journalist Kim Zetter draws on her extensive sources and expertise to tell the story behind Stuxnet's planning, execution, and discovery, covering its genesis in the corridors of Bush's White House and its unleashing on systems in Iran--and telling the spectacular, unlikely tale of the security geeks who managed to unravel a sabotage campaign years in the making.

But Countdown to Zero Day ranges far beyond Stuxnet itself. Here, Zetter shows us how digital warfare developed in the US. She takes us inside today's flourishing zero-day "grey markets," in which intelligence agencies and militaries pay huge sums for the malicious code they need to carry out infiltrations and attacks. She reveals just how vulnerable many of our own critical systems are to Stuxnet-like strikes, from nation-state adversaries and anonymous hackers alike--and shows us just what might happen should our infrastructure be targeted by such an attack.

Propelled by Zetter's unique knowledge and access, and filled with eye-opening explanations of the technologies involved, Countdown to Zero Day is a comprehensive and prescient portrait of a world at the edge of a new kind of war.


Author Notes

KIM ZETTER is an award-winning journalist who covers cybercrime, civil liberties, privacy, and security for Wired . She was among the first journalists to cover Stuxnet after its discovery and has authored many of the most comprehensive articles about it. She has also broken numerous stories over the years about WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, NSA surveillance, and the hacker underground.


Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

"Zero Day" refers to a threat or attack upon a computer system during which programmers have no time to detect it or protect the system. Stuxnet is the virus that attacked the centrifuges at Iran's uranium enrichment facilities in 2009. Zetter, a reporter for Wired with wide interests in civil liberties, privacy, and security, describes how the digital warhead causes equipment to be physically-as opposed to technologically-damaged by manipulating its operating system. The author provides background information on how this virus was supposedly developed by the United States to disrupt Iran's nuclear weapons program. Lots of technical terms abound, but the book is written so that general readers can understand what is going on. It doesn't include a bibliography, photos, or charts, but the many footnotes reference personal interviews, news and research articles, official documents, and specialized news websites. VERDICT Read this not only for the purported history but also to understand the very real threat to the complicated yet vulnerable and delicate infrastructure that is the basis of interconnected modern society.-Daniel Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

CHAPTER 1 EARLY WARNING Sergey Ulasen is not the sort of person you'd expect to find at the center of an international incident. The thirty-one-year-old Belarusian has close-cropped blond hair, a lean boyish frame, and the open face and affable demeanor of someone who goes through life attracting few enemies and even fewer controversies. One of his favorite pastimes is spending the weekend at his grandmother's country house outside Minsk, where he decompresses from weekday stresses, far from the reach of cell phones and the internet. But in June 2010, Ulasen encountered something unusual that soon propelled him into the international spotlight and into a world of new stress.1 It was a warm Thursday afternoon, and Ulasen, who headed the antivirus division of a small computer security firm in Belarus called Virus-BlokAda, was seated with his colleague Oleg Kupreev in their lab in downtown Minsk inside a drab, Soviet-era building about a block from the Svisloch River. They were sifting methodically through suspicious computer files they had recently found on a machine in Iran when something striking leapt out at Kupreev. He sat back in his chair and called Ulasen over to take a look. Ulasen scrolled through the code once, then again, to make sure he was seeing what he thought he saw. A tiny gasp escaped his throat. The code they had been inspecting the past few days, something they had until now considered a mildly interesting but nonetheless run-of-the-mill virus, had just revealed itself to be a work of quiet and diabolical genius. Not only was it using a skillful rootkit to cloak itself and make it invisible to antivirus engines, it was using a shrewd zero-day exploit to propagate from machine to machine--an exploit that attacked a function so fundamental to the Windows operating system, it put millions of computers at risk of infection. Exploits are attack code that hackers use to install viruses and other malicious tools onto machines. They take advantage of security vulnerabilities in browser software like Internet Explorer or applications like Adobe PDF Reader to slip a virus or Trojan horse onto a system, like a burglar using a crowbar to pry open a window and break into a house. If a victim visits a malicious website where the exploit lurks or clicks on a malicious e‑mail attachment containing an exploit, the exploit uses the security hole in the software to drop a malicious file onto their system. When software makers learn about such holes in their products, they generally produce "patches" to close them up and seal the intruders out, while antivirus firms like Ulasen's add signatures to their scanners to detect any exploits that try to attack the vulnerabilities. Zero-day exploits, however, aren't ordinary exploits but are the hacking world's most prized possession because they attack holes that are still unknown to the software maker and to the antivirus vendors--which means there are no antivirus signatures yet to detect the exploits and no patches available to fix the holes they attack. But zero-day exploits are rarely found in the wild. It takes time and skill for hackers to discover new holes and write workable exploits to attack them, so the vast majority of hackers simply rely on old vulnerabilities and exploits to spread their malware, counting on the fact that most computer users don't often patch their machines or have up-to-date antivirus software installed, and that it can take vendors weeks or months to produce a patch for a known hole. Although more than 12 million viruses and other malicious files are captured each year, only about a dozen or so zero-days are found among them. Yet here the attackers were using an extremely valuable zero-day exploit, and a skillful rootkit, for a virus that, as far as Ulasen and Kupreev could tell, had only been found on machines in Iran so far. Something didn't add up. THE MYSTERY FILES had come to their attention a week earlier when a reseller of VirusBlokAda's security software in Iran reported a persistent problem with a customer's machine in that country. The computer was caught in a reboot loop, crashing and rebooting repeatedly while defying the efforts of technicians to control it.2 VirusBlokAda's tech-support team had scanned the system remotely from Minsk to look for any malware their antivirus software might have missed, but came up with nothing. That's when they called in Ulasen. Ulasen had been hired by the antivirus firm while still in college. He was hired to be a programmer, but the staff at VirusBlokAda was so small, and Ulasen's skills so keen, that within three years, at the age of twenty-six, he found himself leading the team that developed and maintained its antivirus engine. He also occasionally worked with the research team that deconstructed malicious threat