'Flame' computer virus sought Iran's atomic secrets

world | Jun 5, 2012 | By Martin Barillas

In an example of the ever greater reach of cyber-warfare, a computer virus known as "Flame" is believed to have been designed to purloin secrets from Iran's nuclear weaponization program in late May 2012. According to the Ynet news site, a statement from Russia's famed Kaspersky Lab said that among Flame's main goals was to copy "confidential technical drawings" of Iran's military installations and nuclear facilities and labs.

Reporting on June 5, Ynet said that  ... the attackers had a "high interest in AutoCad drawings, in addition to PDF and text files" Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey said of the cyber attack, "They were looking for the designs of mechanical and electrical equipment," according to the BBC. "However, Iran isn't likely to have any intellectual property not available elsewhere. So, this suggests more a case of intelligence-gathering than onward selling on the black market," he added.

The Flame virus stole information by creating fake identities to register more than 80 domain names around the world. The information taken from Iran's systems was sent to servers located in Hong Kong, Turkey, Germany, and Malaysia, and other countries.

Noting that Flame gained access to computers by hijacking Microsoft's system of automatic updates, AP wire services reported, "We have discovered through our analysis that some components of the malware have been signed by certificates that allow software to appear as if it was produced by Microsoft," according to the company founded by Bill Gates. For its part, the Islamic Republic of Iran has blamed Israel and the United States for the attack, but neither country has confirmed its participation.

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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