A United Nations agency that aids member states in securing their national infrastructures is set to issue its most serious warning to date about the risk posed by the "Flame" computer virus, recently discovered in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.
A snippet of malware code shows why the virus has been dubbed 'flame'.
Photo: Courtesy of Kaspersky Labs
Marco Obiso, cyber security coordinator for the U.N. International Telecommunications Union, said Tuesday the statement "is the most serious warning we have ever put out."
He said the formal notice will tell member nations the virus is a dangerous espionage tool that could potentially be used to attack critical infrastructure, adding that he believed Flame was likely built on behalf of a nation state.
Russia's Kaspersky Lab described it as a malicious program whose "complexity and functionality exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date."
Kaspersky said computers in Iran appear to have been particularly affected, followed by those in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Sudan, Syria and other parts of the region.
Iran's Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center warned that Flame is potentially more harmful than the 2010 Stuxnet virus, which destroyed several centrifuges used for Iran's nuclear enrichment program.
Tehran said Tuesday it has produced an antivirus program capable of fighting the virus, which computer experts are calling "the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed."
The spyware works by copying files and activating computer microphones to record conversations before sending the data through a series of servers to the program source.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but top Israeli officials hinted at their involvement.
Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon said Tuesday cyber weapons such as Flame are a "reasonable" tool for any nation trying to "hobble" the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. He also said Israel is a "technologically rich" nation whose tools "open up all sorts of opportunities."
In a speech late Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while not mentioning Flame specifically, spoke of Israel's cyber prowess. He said Israel is investing "a great deal of money in that, human capital and financial capital."
Tensions between Iran and Israel have increased steadily in recent months, as has speculation about a possible Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear sites. Iran says its controversial nuclear program is peaceful. But talks have been continuing with world powers to curb Iran's weapons capability.
Tehran has blamed the Stuxnet attack on Israel and the West, whom it accuses of trying to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.
The head of science, technology and security at Tel Aviv University, Isaac Ben-Israel, told VOA the Flame virus uses a different software language from Stuxnet, making it unlikely the two are related. He also said Flame is the largest virus of its kind ever detected with a file size of 20 megabytes.
Ben-Israel said he doubted the Israeli government is responsible because Israel is among the nations whose computers have been infected.
Mr. Netanyahu also made his first public comments about last week's talks on Iran's nuclear program. He said not only do the six world powers "need to strengthen the [economic] sanctions" on Iran, they should intensify their demands."
He said nothing short of Iran stopping uranium enrichment, getting rid of what it already produced and dismantling the means of making more, would satisfy him that it had no nuclear weapons project.
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