Posted on 05. Oct, 2010 by John Fife
, Foreign and Domestic Intelligence
On a Vancouver stage last Thursday, a young Irish computing expert gave a filmed presentation showing how the world could end with the pop of a balloon. The presentational qualities are, well, geek-like, the sound quality poor, and the whole experiment has the air of a Year 7 science project. Nevertheless, the YouTube video
is spreading like wildfire from one software blog to the next.
In the past few days, the expert, Liam O Murchu, has become the new star of Geek Universe, quoted from PC World
to the Washington Post
. But unlike most such young men, his impenetrable analyses of computer coding have a frightening relevance to physical realities. Hence his experiment, performed at the Virus Bulletin 2010 conference in Canada.
O Murchu was demonstrating how a computer worm called Stuxnet had effects that went beyond blowing up your computer screen. It could blow up real things, too. Stuxnet has infected operating systems on equipment manufactured by the German industrial giant Siemens and has, as he puts it, “real-world implications beyond any threat we have seen in the past”. It could attack oil pipelines, power stations, even nuclear plants.
To prove the possibilities, O Murchu set up a basic air pump, controlled by a Siemens system, on the stage in front of him. The pump delivered a timed burst of air into a balloon, which inflated moderately. O Murchu then infected the system with Stuxnet, pressed a button, and hey presto! The pump pumped, but did not stop. The balloon went on inflating till it burst.