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Cash, Coke & Stuxnet: an Alternative Perspective

By Dave Lewis

Now that the media has feasted on the Stuxnet carcass, it gives me a moment of pause. What of a different perspective? I know – madness, right? But seriously, we have seen the media in a lather over this story for some time now. Let’s be honest – to someone who has worked in the SCADA community, this really is nothing new. It’s just one incident that happened to come to light.

An alternative angle to the story, which seems to have been shied away from, is under-financed but motivated agents. Technical ‘resources’ with too much free time and a wealth of knowledge. This is not a new idea – just look at the abundance of open source projects that rely heavily on this concept: smart people with free time on their hands. What happens when you combine a surfeit of technical competence with a criminal bent?

This was well documented back in the 80’s, when a group of German hackers led by Karl Koch were arrested for selling source code they had purloined from US government and corporate computers to the KGB. In this case these hackers were receiving payments in the form of cocaine and cash. Nothing major, just enough to keep them happy (and awake during their coke-fueled coding sessions). At least that was the idea until they were caught and Karl met his untimely end in a German forest in 1989.

The argument will invariably be: how could they have the knowledge required for some of these attacks? Ever worked for a power company? There are usually a good number of disgruntled workers and $1,000 US will go a long way in some countries. It was also not difficult to gain access to the documentation from most control system vendors until recently.

To borrow from Rich Mogull: funding = resources – the biggest of which are time and knowledge. Looking back to my earlier statement, this is something that a lot of disaffected hackers in former eastern bloc countries have in droves. Throw in some cash and drugs and you could have a motivated crew. I don’t think this is the case, but you must admit it’s within the realm of possibility.

After all, this is not without precedent. There’s a skeleton in a forest someplace to prove it.

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