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'60 Minutes' profiles threat posed by Stuxnet

Former U.S. intelligence officials and computer security experts warn of the potential problems and consequences that accompany this relatively new type of weapon in cyberwarfare.

CBS Interactive

Stuxnet took the world by storm two years ago.

The worm was different from previous viruses: it wasn't designed to steal money, identities, or passwords. Instead, the malware targeted the controls at industrial facilities such as power plants, inspiring talk of a top secret, government-sponsored cyberwar.

At the time of its discovery in June 2010, the assumption was that espionage lay behind the effort, but subsequent analysis uncovered the ability of the malware to control plant operations outright--specifically an Iranian nuclear facility.

In addition to showing that a cyberattack could cause significant physical damage to a facility, it also raised concerns that future malware, modeled after Stuxnet, could target critical infrastructure, such as power and water-treatment plants in the United States.

"We have entered into a new phase of conflict in which we use a cyberweapon to create physical destruction, and in this case, physical destruction in someone else's critical infrastructure," Ret. Gen. Michael Hayden told the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes" this evening (see video below).

Hayden, who is a former head of the National Security Agency and served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, says he knows more about the attack on Iran than he can publicly discuss. But he warns that there are potential problems and consequences that come with this new kind of warfare.

"When you use a physical weapon it destroys itself, in addition to the target, if it's used properly," Hayden said. "A cyberweapon doesn't, so there are those out there who can take a look at this, study it and maybe even attempt to turn it to their own purposes."

The complete segment on "60 Minutes":