What Is the Stuxnet Virus?

Are you at risk for contracting this government intelligence virus?

A conceptual illustration of the Stuxnet virus destroying a laptop computer.

 Theresa Chiechi / Lifewire

The story of the Stuxnet virus is a stunning example of how hackers can zero in and target a victim. It's a cautionary tale of how computers and viruses can be used to destroy physical pieces of machinery. It's also a reminder that computer viruses are nothing to ignore.

What Is the Stuxnet Virus?

The Stuxnet virus is primarily a computer worm that targeted Iran's nuclear facilities in 2010. Although no government has claimed responsibility for it, it is widely believed that the worm was a joint project of the U.S. and Israeli governments. The goal was to sabotage Iran's nuclear machinery and processes in an effort to stop that country from producing nuclear weapons.

Stuxnet infected the software used in at least 14 industrial sites with more than 200,000 machines and, according to industry estimates, destroyed 1,000 centrifuges, machines with rapidly rotating containers, that are key elements to nuclear production.

How Does the Stuxnet Virus Work?

Stuxnet looked for specific Siemens industrial control systems and included three parts: A worm that did most of the work, a link file that automatically executed propagated worm copies, and a rootkit virus that hid everything from detection.

The worm was hand-carried into the nuclear facilities by spies on a USB stick, then set loose. As it worked, the rootkit virus instructed infected machines to send messages back to the workers monitoring the system letting them know that everything was just fine. In reality, the worm was finding new computers to infect on the network and telling the centrifuges to move faster and faster. Eventually, the rotations were so fast and so numerous that the machines physically broke down.

The Stuxnet family of viruses is more interested in attacking infrastructures than individuals.

Do I Have the Stuxnet Virus?

It's unlikely. The original virus targeted specific computer systems with Siemens software, which is not available to the average person. Plus, the code was programmed to expire in 2012. While later variations of the Stuxnet worm attacked several Zero Day vulnerabilities involving Microsoft software, Microsoft quickly patched the exploit. There are potentially still variations that exist, however. Large corporations, such as energy companies, have been targeted with worms similar to the Stuxnet virus. However, most experts do not believe those variations will specifically attack private computer owners.

Can I Get the Stuxnet Virus?

No. Even 'sons of Stuxnet', viruses with similar approaches, that have been discovered since Stuxnet are not looking for the average person. For example, the Havex virus of 2013 targeted U.S., European, and Canadian energy, aviation, defense and pharmaceutical companies. Other forms continue to appear throughout the world, though, and serve as reminders that the average computer user should always take precautions when using corporate websites to enter personal data of any kind.

How Do I Get Rid of a Computer Virus?

The most effective way to remove a computer virus is by using professional antivirus software. It can tackle a wide variety of problems, including Trojans, spyware, ransomware and more. This removal process can take several hours but these programs are the most comprehensive ways to remove these types of programs. 

There are many types of antivirus available that can tackle all kinds of threats. Options include antivirus for Macs as well as antivirus for Windows computers, plus antivirus for Android phones and even iPhones.

If you prefer not to use antivirus software, there are other steps you can take:

  1. You can remove a virus from your computer without antivirus software. This is not always effective for Trojans but it can work well with persistent malware infections so it's worth a try. You can remove malware from a Mac, too.

  2. If the problem is on a mobile device, you may need to try different techniques to remove the virus from Android or from an iOS device.

  3. If none of those steps solve the problem, you can use System Restore to return to an earlier point on your computer before you picked up the virus. Be sure to pick a time period where you can be certain you didn't already have the virus on your computer. 

How Do I Avoid Getting a Computer Virus?

There are a few key ways in which you can lower your chances of being infected with a computer virus:

  • Keep your antivirus software and malware protection updated. Keep your PC informed on what to look for with new virus and malware-based threats. 
  • Disable PUPs in your antivirus software. In your antivirus program, be sure to select the option to remove any PUPs from future downloads.
  • Stick to well-known websites. Viruses can quickly infect your computer through the suspicious websites you might browse. Clicking on the 'wrong' link can lead to you downloading Trojans like Tinba.
  • Don't click on popup banner ads. When a pop-up banner appears when browsing a website, don't click on it. Leave immediately if a site inundates you with pop-up advertisements.