Security: A code explodes

Sitting in his office in Hamburg, Ralph Langner, a German information technology specialist, recalls the moment when he came across the Stuxnet computer worm. “I have to tell you, my jaw dropped,” he says. “I have been in the computer consultancy business for 20 years. I have always warned clients that something like this might appear. But I did not expect that I would end up seeing something so sophisticated, so aggressive, so dangerous.”Stuxnet is a malicious software code that was first noticed around the world four months ago. Today, it is causing alarm not just to IT experts such as Mr Langner but also to security strategists and governments. Among them is the Iranian regime, whose nuclear programme – seen as one of the most serious threats to global security – may have been severely hit.For years, governments have been aware of the threat from cybercrime and cyberwarfare. The Pentagon has gone public on how hackers regularly break into its systems and try to steal secrets. Governments have seen, too, how one actor – almost certainly Russia – carried out large-scale cyberattacks on Estonia and Georgia in 2007 and 2008 respectively, severely disabling their communication networks for brief periods.

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