The recently discovered Flame malware may be just the tip of the iceberg, with new reports this week that there could be a few more similar programs targeting Iran.
Flame was already linked to Stuxnet, which targeted Iran's nuclear technology, according to news reports. It was also linked to Duqu, a worm that can steal data and infected Iran's computer systems. Another malware, Gauss, was discovered in July.
There is widespread speculation that the Stuxnet malware was developed by the United States and Israel in response to Iran’s move to have working nuclear weapons.
Such a weapon could be available to the Iranians in six months, warned Israel just days ago – with Iranian leaders this week once again threatening to destroy Israel with missile attacks.
It was also revealed this week that Flame dates back to 2006, as opposed to being more recent, such as 2010.
The latest report on Flame comes from a study by Symantec (News - Alert), Kasperksy, the Crypto Labs in Budapest and the UN's International Telecommunications Union. It showed at least three communications protocols are likely present.
"The conclusion seems to be that there is something else out there," Professor Alan Woodward, who teaches at the University of Surrey (UK), told the BBC.
Flame and related malware may have been developed by governments but Woodward said, “It appears to be written by computer analysts not intelligence analysts,” the BBC reported.
Most of the computers infected by Flame were in Iran, with others in Sudan and other countries.
"What these cyberoperations do is allow America to put digital boots on the ground in a foreign country, sparing American lives in the short term," John Bumgarner, research director for the US Cyber Consequences Unit, told the Christian Science Monitor. "The CIA doesn't need to embed a spy inside Iran, and the US military doesn't need to send a stealth fighter to bomb something…. Most of the bread crumbs haven't been traced directly back to NSA or CIA. But the traces do, at the very least, suggest such agencies ran these operations."
“The complexity of the code and confirmed links to developers of Stuxnet all point to the fact that Flame is yet another example of a sophisticated nation-state sponsored cyber operation,” according to a statement from Kaspersky Labs. “There is enough evidence to prove that at least one Flame-related malware is operating in the wild. These unknown malicious programs are yet to be discovered.”
“This is certainly an example of cyber espionage conducted on a massive scale,” Alexander Gostev, chief security expert, Kaspersky Lab (News - Alert), added in a statement carried by TMCnet.
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Edited by Rich Steeves