A new computer virus with Persian words in its programming code infected sensitive computers across the Middle East, including Israel, and gathered information on critical national  infrastructure, an Israeli security expert who helped uncover the virus told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

The Trojan horse has been dubbed “Mahdi” after the Shi’ite Iranian messiah-like figure, since the programmers appear to have used a key folder with that name and also included a text file named mahdi.txt in the malicious software.

Aviv Raff, deputy chief technology officer at the Petah Tikva-based Seculert company, which discovered the new virus, said that like the earlier Flame virus discovered in Iranian computers, the new Trojan horse could turn on microphones in computers, record in-room conversations, take screenshots and steal file content.

He named the five states with the highest number of infected computers – Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – with first Iran, then Israel the most affected.

“The aim was to create a document containing information [and send it out to a remote user], which was to be used for [an unknown] future mission,” Raff told the Post on Wednesday.

In Israel, as in other countries, computers found to be infected by Mahdi belonged to people working on national infrastructure projects as well as engineering students.

Raff said that while the program code was effective, it was not so complex and was created quickly. “Whoever did this needed to have some kind of financial backup.

It’s a big threat to any state’s security,” he added.

Seculert asked the large Russian Kapersky Lap computer security company to investigate the virus. In a joint press release on Tuesday, Seculert and Kapersky said the Trojan Horse has been operating for the past several months, and had also gathered information on financial bodies and academic institutions.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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