Siemens confirms German customer hit by Stuxnet espionage worm

Security vendor Symantec is now logging about 9,000 infection attempts per day

Siemens has confirmed that one of its customers has been hit by a new worm designed to steal secrets from industrial control systems.

To date, the company has been notified of one attack, on a German manufacturer that Siemens declined to identify. "We were informed by one of our system integrators, who developed a project for a customer in process industries," said Siemens Industry spokesman Wieland Simon in an email message. The company is trying to determine whether the attack caused damage, he said.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Siemens has warned users not to change their passwords after a worm attack. | InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard explains the workings of the new rootkit exploit. | Master your security with InfoWorld's interactive Security iGuide. | Stay up to date on the latest security developments with InfoWorld's Security Central newsletter. ]

The worm, called Stuxnet, was first spotted last month, when it infected systems at an unidentified Iranian organization, according to Sergey Ulasen, the head of the antivirus kernel department at VirusBlokAda, in Minsk, Belarus. The unidentified victim, which does not own the type of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems targeted by the worm, "told us their workstations serially rebooted without any reason," Ulasen said in an email message Tuesday.

VirusBlokAda soon received reports of the malware from "all over the middle east," he added. Last week, Microsoft said that it had logged infection attempts in the U.S., Indonesia, India, and Iran. Security vendor Symantec is now logging about 9,000 infection attempts per day.

After gaining access to the Iranian system, VirusBlokAda researchers were able to analyze the worm and determine that it exploited a new and unpatched vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows operating system, allowing it to spread via USB devices and networked file systems.

The highly sophisticated worm also takes advantage of default passwords used by Siemens' management consoles to connect and then try to steal industrial secrets from infected companies. If it worked, the worm could steal manufacturing "recipes" from victims, allowing criminals to counterfeit products.

Security experts have warned that this type of computer-based industrial espionage is becoming a major ongoing business threat. Earlier this year both Intel and Google acknowledged that they were targeted in spying attacks, but this is the first publicly reported worm to target SCADA systems.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Industrial Control Systems Emergency Response team posted an advisory, confirming that Siemens' Simatic WinCC and Step 7 products are affected by the worm.

A few hours later, Siemens published customer guidance for dealing with the worm problem on its website. "Together with Microsoft, Siemens is working on a remedy at operating system level," the note states.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's email address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com.

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