Complex cyberwar tool 'Flame' found all over Middle East

20 times larger than Stuxnet, two years old... and still active


A new super-cyberweapon targeting countries like Iran and Israel that has been knocking around in computers for two years has been discovered by researchers.

"Flame", a highly sophisticated piece of malware, was unearthed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Kaspersky Lab, which said it was more complex and functional than any cyber threat it had seen to date.

Because Flame is so super-complicated and because of the geography of the attack, Kaspersky Lab's global research and analysis team head Alexander Gostev said he was in "no doubt" that it was a state-sponsored worm.

Flame is a cyber espionage program that steals data such as computer display contents, information about targeted systems, stored files, contact info and even audio conservations. Kaspersky Lab said that the worm's features were different from Duqu and Stuxnet, but it matched up with them when comparing where it attacked, the software vulnerabilities it uses and the fact that only certain computers were targeted.

"Stuxnet and Duqu belonged to a single chain of attacks, which raised cyberwar-related concerns worldwide," Eugene Kaspersky said in a canned statement. "The Flame malware looks to be another phase in this war, and it’s important to understand that such cyber weapons can easily be used against any country. Unlike with conventional warfare, the more developed countries are actually the most vulnerable in this case."

Iran's National Computer Emergency Response Team posted a warning about the malware on its site today and said a fix would be coming soon.

"At the time of writing, none of the 43 tested anti viruses could detect any of the malicious components. Nevertheless, a detector was created by Maher centre and delivered to selected organisations and companies in first days of May," the site said.

"And now a removal tool is ready to be delivered.

"The research on samples implies that the recent incidents of mass data loss in Iran could be the outcome of some installed module of this threat," it added.

Kaspersky Lab said it was currently doing deeper analysis of Flame, which has been in the wild since March 2010, and it would tell everyone what it learned on its blog posts.

"For now what is known is that it consists of multiple modules and is made up of several megabytes of executable code in total - making it around 20 times larger than Stuxnet, meaning that analysing this cyber weapon requires a large team of top-tier security experts and reverse engineers with vast experience in the cyber defence field," the security firm said.

Gostev said that the malware was still stealing data.

"One of the most alarming facts is that the Flame cyber attack campaign is currently in its active phase, and its operator is consistently surveilling infected systems, collecting information and targeting new systems to accomplish its unknown goals," he said. ®

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