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Inside the Team That Cracked the Stuxnet Worm

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Shown above: Siemens Simatic S7-300 PLC CPU, similar to one of those targeted by the Stuxnet worm.

In an extremely comprehensive WIRED article, Kim Zetter tells the inside story of how researchers worldwide (primarily working for Symantec) decoded the Stuxnet worm, ultimately figuring out that it was developed to target nuclear centrifuges at a particular site in Iran. For nerds, this is an incredibly engrossing read, full of technical-but-followable detail, as well as a compelling real-life narrative. As many commenters have noted, it reads a bit like a Tom Clancy novel. While many of us have heard something about Stuxnet, this is the article you should read to learn the real story -- grab a sandwich and turn off your email program for a half hour. Here's a snippet:

It should have been no surprise to the researchers, then, when their work drew the attention of government agencies in and outside the United States, that began asking for briefings on their findings. Symantec put together a PowerPoint presentation for the Department of Homeland Security, Defense Department, Department of Energy and FBI to answer their questions. "I joke that they already had all the answers," Chien said. Asked if anyone from the NSA or CIA attended the PowerPoint sessions, he smiled. "If we ever did brief the NSA, we wouldn't know, right?"

The political ramifications of their work took on even starker dimensions when, two weeks after they published their findings on the frequency converters, assassins on motorbikes attacked two Iranian nuclear scientists simultaneously in Tehran. The men were commuting to work on a Monday morning in separate parts of the city when the assassins zipped by their cars and attached bombs to them. [...]

Although the researchers didn't really believe their lives were at risk for exposing Stuxnet, they laughed nervously as they recalled the paranoia and dark humor that crept into their conversations at the time. O Murchu began noticing weird clicking noises on his phone, and one Friday told Chien and Falliere, "If I turn up dead and I committed suicide on Monday, I just want to tell you guys, I'm not suicidal."

The day news of the assassination plots broke, Chien joked to his colleagues that if a motorcycle ever pulled alongside his car, he'd take out the driver with a quick swerve of his wheels. When he left work that day and stopped at the first intersection, he was shaken -- just for a moment -- as he glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw a motorcycle pull up behind him.

Read the rest (it's long) for a thoroughly excellent look at a dramatic story of modern computer security research.

(Via Waxy.org via Hypertext.)

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.)

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LG
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technology
New Device Sanitizes Escalator Handrails While They're in Use
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LG

If you have ever hesitated to touch a well-used escalator's handrails for fear of contracting some disease from the masses, LG Innotek has an answer for you. The company just released a handrail sterilizer that uses UV light to kill nearly every germ coating the rubber belts, according to The Verge.

As the railings move with the escalator, they pass through the UV light, which kills 99.99 percent of germs, according to tech developer LG Innotek. The sterilizer is placed just before escalator users hop on, ensuring the handrails are still relatively clean when you grab on at the bottom. The device is a little bigger than a regular hand sanitizer dispenser (around the size of a piece of paper) and starts automatically when the escalator begins moving. It runs on power generated by the movement of the escalator.

UV radiation is used to kill super-germs in hospitals (and one company wants to bring it to planes), but it's relatively easy to use on your phone, your toothbrush, or anywhere else in your house. You can already get handheld UV sterilizers online, as well as aquarium-specific ones. In April 2017, LG Innotek released a faucet that purifies water by UV-sterilizing it inside the aerator. However, the fact that escalator railings are constantly on the move makes them easier to clean automatically than subway railings, door handles, and other potentially germy public surfaces we touch every day.

Bear in mind that while nobody likes getting a cold, germs aren't always bad for you. Some types can even help protect you against developing asthma, as scientists found while researching the health differences between Amish children and their counterparts on more industrialized farms. Whether you touch the handrails or not, cities have their own unique microbiomes, and those ubiquitous bacteria are pretty much guaranteed to get on you whether you like it or not. On the bright side, if you are a germophobe, UV sterilization has been touted as a possible alternative to other antibacterial treatments that cause supergerms.

[h/t The Verge]

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JAXA/NASA
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Space
The New ISS Mascot: This Incredibly Cute Camera Drone
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JAXA/NASA

There's a new resident of the International Space Station, and it's definitely the cutest one there. The JEM Internal Ball Camera, or Int-Ball, is a spherical autonomous drone designed to act as the space station's roving photographer. The Japanese space agency JAXA released the first pictures of it on the station on July 14, as Engadget reports.

Int-Ball was delivered to Japan's Kibo module on ISS as part of a payload launched on June 4. It records both video and photos while moving through the microgravity of the space station. More importantly, it can both work autonomously or be controlled from Earth. The imagery can be seen in close to real-time on the Earth, so ground control can see what's happening on the station from the astronauts' point of view, offering guidance and help should anything go wrong.

The 3D-printed ball, which measures just 6 inches in diameter, has two "eyes" surrounding its camera so the astronauts can tell exactly what it's recording. (Not to mention adding to its cuteness factor.) It's propelled by 12 fans and navigates through the station using special pink targets mounted to walls and doors as reference points.

Astronauts spend about 10 percent of their workday photographing what's happening on the ISS, according to JAXA, but the drone camera could significantly reduce that time. The goal is to eliminate the task from astronauts' job descriptions entirely. Instead of documenting their work themselves, astronauts could focus on their research while the Int-Ball does the documenting for them.

[h/t Engadget]

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