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Use of Flame virus to deter Iran 'reasonable': Israel

Written By THA on Tuesday, 29 May 2012 | 10:59

For anyone facing the threat of a nuclear Iran, using cyberweapons such as the newly-discovered destructive virus known as Flame, would be a "reasonable" step, Israel's vice prime minister said on Tuesday.

"For anyone who sees the Iranian threat as significant, it is reasonable that he would take different steps, including these, in order to damage it," Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel's army radio on Tuesday, just hours after the virus was discovered by Kaspersky Lab.

"Israel is blessed with being a country which is technologically rich, and these tools open up all sorts of possibilities for us," he said.

Late on Monday, Kaspersky Labs, a top Russian anti-virus firm said it had uncovered a new virus with unprecedented destructive potential, which was being used as a "cyberweapon" against several countries.

Kaspersky said the virus was several times larger than the Stuxnet worm that was discovered in June 2010 and used against the Iranian nuclear programme, with Israel widely suspected of involvement along with Western security agencies.

Flame is "actively being used as a cyber weapon attacking entities in several countries," a Kaspersky statement said, describing its purpose as "cyberespionage."

20 times larger than Stuxnet

"The complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious programme exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date," it added.

It did not mention which country the virus was aimed at, but said the investigation began following complaints from the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union about a piece of malware named Wiper, which was deleting sensitive information across the Middle East.

The malware code itself is 20MB in size - making it some 20 times larger than the Stuxnet virus.

According to Western media reports, Flame has been used to attack the Iranian oil ministry and Iran's main oil export terminal.

Kaspersky said Flame had been "in the wild" for more than two years, since March 2010. Officials with Symantec Corp and Intel Corp McAfee security division, the top 2 makers of anti-virus software, said they were studying Flame.

"It seems to be more complex than Duqu but it's too early to tell its place in history," said Dave Marcus, director of advanced research and threat intelligence with McAfee.

Most complex malicious software

Symantec Security Response manager Vikram Thakur said his company's experts believed there was a "high" probability that Flame was among the most complex pieces of malicious software ever discovered.

There is some controversy over who was behind Stuxnet and Duqu. Some experts suspect the United States and Israel, a view laid out in a January 2011 New York Times report that said they came from a joint program begun around 2004 to undermine what they said were Iran's efforts to build a bomb.

The U.S. Defense Department, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency, and U.S. Cyber Command declined to comment.

Hungarian researcher Boldizsar Bencsath, whose Laboratory of Cryptography and Systems Security first discovered Duqu, said his analysis showed that Flame may have been active for at least five years, perhaps even more than eight years.

That implies it was active long before Stuxnet.

"It's huge and overly complex, which makes me think it's a first-generation data gathering tool," said Neil Fisher, vice president for global security solutions at Unisys Corp. "We are going to find more of these things over time."

Prof Alan Woodward, from the Department of Computing at the University of Surrey said the attack was very significant. "This is basically an industrial vacuum cleaner for sensitive information," he told the BBC. He explained that unlike Stuxnet, which was designed with one specific task in mind, Flame was much more sophisticated. "Whereas Stuxnet just had one purpose in life, Flame is a toolkit, so they can go after just about everything they can get their hands on."

Once the initial Flame malware has infected a machine, additional modules can be added to perform specific tasks - almost in the same manner as adding apps to a smartphone. (ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News)
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