New virus hints at state sponsored programmers

Israeli online security experts: 'Flame' espionage virus bears hallmarks of state-sponsored programmers.

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May 28, 2012 23:22
1 minute read.
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The complexity of the latest 'Flame' virus bears the hallmarks of a program engineered by a state, a number of Israeli computer experts believe.

As details of Flame - the third major virus discovered to have an affinity to Iranian computer systems in recent years - filtered through the media, network security experts in Israel, requesting anonymity, studied the initial reports, and indicated that they believed small groups of hackers could not be behind the virus.

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"This is not a couple of hackers who sat in a basement," one expert said. "This is a large, organized system. It is possible that years were invested in creating it."

A second analyst said that viruses at this level of sophistication require major capabilities and knowledge of code development, noting that "these are available only to states. And that's without mentioning a motive for developing [such a program]."

The experts believe that a good computer hacker can put together a complex code made up of thousands of lines, but that when hundreds of thousands of lines or more are involved, a major organization was far more likely to be involved.

According to reports,  Flame has 100 times more code as a virus designed to steal financial data.

Yet it is not just the size of the code that provides a hint, but also, the knowledge encrypted in the virus on its target.

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The Stuxnet virus, for example, was more than a complex code; it had detailed knowledge on the Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, used by Iran to enrich uranium through spinning centrifuges.

It was this sort of inside knowledge on the systems that are targeted which provide a hint regarding the type of programmers involved, the experts argued.

"Even the best hacker can't write a code that specifically targets control equipment," said one specialist. "This isn't a person sitting in a basement."

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