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Flame virus: Was computer bug in Iran's computer networks made in the U.S.?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (

The highly virulent Flame virus invaded Iran's computer networks at a time there were heightened concerns over that nation's nuclear weapons program. The question arises: was the virus a special surprise "gift" from U.S. espionage? Computer security experts have told NBC News that the virus bears the hallmarks of a U.S. cyber espionage operation, specifically that of the super-secret National Security Agency.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Flame virus, intended to gather intelligence and not destroy equipment or data, in contrast to the Stuxnet virus, is too sophisticated to be the work of another country. One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It was U.S.," the official said. He admitted having no first-hand knowledge of how the virus operates or was introduced into the Iranian computers.

The U.S. is also believed to have created the Stuxnet virus, which targeted Iran's uranium-enriching centrifuges. According to cyber-security experts, the freshly discovered Flame virus essentially "colonizes" the targeted computers, giving hackers control over critical data stored on them.

U.S. intelligence officials declined to discuss the virus. "We have no comment," said one. Israeli officials, suspected in previous attacks, denied involvement.

The virus was first discovered and announced over the weekend by a Russian cyber-security organization after reports of massive data losses in Iranian government computers. Kaspersky Lab says it found the Flame infection after the International Telecommunications Union asked it to investigate. The virus has been operating in the wild for as long as five years.

"This is the most serious (cyber) warning we have ever put out," Marco Obiso, cyber-security coordinator for the U.N.'s Geneva-based ITU.

The confidential warning will tell member nations that the Flame virus is a dangerous espionage tool that could potentially be used to attack critical infrastructure, Obiso said.

Other experts said the virus appears to be a different type of invader than Stuxnet.

"From reading press reports, this appears to be penetrating networks to survey, as opposed to destroy, as was the case with Stuxnet," Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center says. "Such computer network operations are core components of what our and other intelligence services do day in and day out.

"Our intelligence services know that any weakness in an information system can mean the entire system is vulnerable. This makes defense very, very hard. Network defenses must work reliably and in real time across the entire network to defend against persistent intruders."

If this is indeed a U.S. cyber-warfare operation, computer security expert Roger Cressey says, the target is likely to be Iran's nuclear program and its decision-making apparatus.

"Whoever has developed this is engaged in very sophisticated intelligence gathering on computer networks throughout the region. Clearly, Iran is a top priority for this program," Cressey said, former chief of staff of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board under George W. Bush.


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