Israel unleashes spyware virus on Iran, other countries

Jerusalem, May 29: An unprecedented “cyber espionage worm” considered the most sophisticated spyware virus yet may have been unleashed by Israel to hit Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, with the possible aim of crippling Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Security experts discovered the new data-stealing virus dubbed Flame which they say has lurked inside thousands of computers across the Middle East for as long as five years as part of a sophisticated cyber warfare campaign.
Russia-based Internet security company Kaspersky Lab that uncovered the virus ‘Flame’ said it has attacked computers in Iran and elsewhere in Middle East and may have been designed to collect and delete sensitive information.
Israeli vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s comments justifying such a measure triggered speculations that Flame may have originated from his country.
“Anyone who sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat – it’s reasonable [to assume] that he will take various steps, including these, to harm it,” Ya’alon told the Army Radio in an interview today.
In Tehran, Iranian authorities admitted that the malicious software dubbed “Flame” has attacked its computer and systems and instructed to run an urgent inspection of all cyber systems in the country.
Iran’s MAHER Center, which is part of the Islamic Republic’s Communication ministry, said that the Flame virus “has caused substantial damage” and that “massive amounts of data have been lost,” Ynetnews reported.
But Iran’s telecommunications ministry also claimed that it had developed software to clean this malware. Kaspersky, one of the world’s biggest producers of anti- virus softwares, said the bug had infected computers in Iran, the West Bank, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Flame is “actively being used as a cyber weapon attacking entities in several countries,” Kaspersky said in a statement, describing its purpose as “cyber espionage”.
“The complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious programme exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date,” the statement said.
The Internet security company also said that Flame contained a specific element that was used in the Stuxnet worm and which had not been seen in any other malware since.
On its blog, Kaspersky called Flame a “sophisticated attack toolkit,” adding that it was much more complex than Duqu, the vehicle used to deliver Stuxnet.
The Stuxnet bug, discovered in June 2010, targeted primarily Iranian computers.
Iran admitted that the worm had damaged centrifuges operating at an uranium enrichment facility at Nantaz.

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