The “Stuxnet” computer worm made international headlines in July, when security experts discovered that it was designed to exploit a previously unknown security hole in Microsoft Windows computers to steal industrial secrets and potentially disrupt operations of critical information networks. But new information about the worm shows that it leverages at least three other previously unknown security holes in Windows PCs, including a vulnerability that Redmond fixed in a software patch released today.
As first reported on July 15 by KrebsOnSecurity.com, Stuxnet uses a vulnerability in the way Windows handles shortcut files to spread to new systems. Experts say the worm was designed from the bottom up to attack so-called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, or those used to manage complex industrial networks, such as systems at power plants and chemical manufacturing facilities.
The worm was originally thought to spread mainly through the use of removable drives, such as USB sticks. But roughly two weeks after news of Stuxnet first surfaced, researchers at Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab discovered that the Stuxnet worm also could spread using an unknown security flaw in the way Windows shares printer resources. Microsoft fixed this vulnerability today, with the release of MS10-061, which is rated critical for Windows XP systems and assigned a lesser “important” threat rating for Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers.
In a blog post today, Microsoft group manager Jerry Bryant said Stuxnet targeted two other previously unknown security vulnerabilities in Windows, including another one reported by Kaspersky. Microsoft has yet to address either of these two vulnerabilities – known as “privilege escalation” flaws because they let attackers elevate their user rights on computers where regular user accounts are blocked from making important system modifications.