Computer cables snake across the floor. Cryptic flowcharts are scrawled across various whiteboards adorning the walls. A life-size Batman doll stands in the hall. This office might seem no different than any other geeky workplace, but in fact it’s the front line of a war—a cyberwar, where most battles play out not in remote jungles or deserts but in suburban office parks like this one. As a senior researcher for Kaspersky Lab, a leading computer security firm based in Moscow, Roel Schouwenberg spends his days (and many nights) here at the lab’s U.S. headquarters in Woburn, Mass., battling the most insidious digital weapons ever, capable of crippling water supplies, power plants, banks, and the very infrastructure that once seemed invulnerable to attack.
Recognition of such threats exploded in June 2010 with the discovery of Stuxnet, a 500-kilobyte computer worm that infected the software of at least 14 industrial sites in Iran, including a uranium-enrichment plant. Although a computer virus relies on an unwitting victim to install it, a worm spreads on its own, often over a computer network.