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Iran is threatening to attack U.S. bases in the region with its missiles if it is attacked, but the reality is that the regime is already under attack. The latest all-but-certain covert operation is the deployment of sophisticated malware that is being called “The Flame.” Its purpose appears to be the mass cultivation of intelligence and it is assessed to be 20 times more complex than Stuxnet, the original “cyber super-weapon” that ravaged Iran’s nuclear program.
The Flame has been discovered in seven Middle Eastern countries, though the number of infections found in Iran is more than the rest combined with 189 instances. There have been 98 infections detected in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Sudan was hit with 32 infections, a country whose regime is increasingly Islamist and friendly towards Hamas. There have been 30 infections found in Syria, 18 in Lebanon, 10 in Saudi Arabia and 5 in Egypt.
It is not believed at this time that the Flame targeted a specific industry or program like Stuxnet did. Instead, it is meant to act as the “the ultimate spy,” copying hard drive data, logging instant messages and other online communications, recording keystrokes, taking screenshots and even secretly turning on computer microphones to record nearby conversations. There is also the potential for sabotage because it can potentially delete information and change settings on computer systems, opening up doors for attack.
Some cyber experts think it was deployed in February or March 2010, while others think it has been active as far back as five years ago. It is unknown who authored the Flame, but suspicion immediately fell on Israel, possibly with U.S. assistance. Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs encouraged such suspicion during an interview, saying, “Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a serious threat would be likely to take different steps, including these, in order to hurt them.” He hinted at his country’s involvement, saying, “Israel is blessed to be a nation possessing superior technology. These achievements of ours open up all kinds of possibilities for us.”
The latest known cyber attack on Iran happened in late April. Iran announced that its oil industry was being targeted by foreign hackers, specifically its Oil Ministry and its Kharg Island terminal where the majority of Iran’s oil is exported from. “Data related to some of the users have been compromised,” the Iranian regime said, though it denied that there was any serious damage.
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