US, Israel behind Flame Virus Cyber-Attack on Iran, US Officials Confirm

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Common Dreams

US, Israel behind Flame Virus Cyber-Attack on Iran, US Officials Confirm

Virus part of larger, sustained campaign of cyber-sabotage

by
Common Dreams staff

An error is seen on a computer screen at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran in this 2009 file photo. (UPI/Mohammad Kheirkhah)

Officials have now confirmed that the US and Israel worked together to develop the Flame computer virus that collected Iranian intelligence as part of a larger cyber attack on Iran, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The virus, which is designed to covertly control everyday computer functions and send secrets back to its creators, was discovered by Iranian officials last month.

Current and former US national security officials, who have not been named, revealed the information to the Post, confirming suspicions that the US and Israel were behind the attack. The sources told the newspaper that the cyber virus was one part of an effort by the National Security Agency, the CIA and the Israeli military to compromise Iran’s nuclear program.

The virus is thought to be part of the first sustained campaign of cyber-sabotage against an adversary of the United States.

Spokesmen for the CIA, the NSA and the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Two leading computer security firms - Kaspersky Lab and Symantec Corp - have confirmed that the software code in the Flame virus matches an earlier detected virus, Stuxnet, which was widely believed to have been used by the United States and Israel to cause Iran's nuclear program to malfunction.

"This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action,” said one of the sources, reported to be a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official. The official told that the Flame and Stuxnet viruses were part of a larger cyber attack that continues today, the Post reported.

“Cyber-collection against the Iranian program is way further down the road than this,” he added.

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The Washington Post: U.S., Israel developed Flame computer virus to slow Iranian nuclear efforts, officials say



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The United States and Israel jointly developed a sophisticated computer virus nicknamed Flame that collected intelligence in preparation for cyber-sabotage aimed at slowing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon, according to Western officials with knowledge of the effort.

The emerging details about Flame provide new clues to what is thought to be the first sustained campaign of cyber-sabotage against an adversary of the United States.

The massive piece of malware secretly mapped and monitored Iran’s computer networks, sending back a steady stream of intelligence to prepare for a cyber­warfare campaign, according to the officials.

The effort, involving the National Security Agency, the CIA and Israel’s military, has included the use of destructive software such as the Stuxnet virus to cause malfunctions in Iran’s nuclear-enrichment equipment.

The emerging details about Flame provide new clues to what is thought to be the first sustained campaign of cyber-sabotage against an adversary of the United States. [...]

The virus is among the most sophisticated and subversive pieces of malware to be exposed to date. Experts said the program was designed to replicate across even highly secure networks, then control everyday computer functions to send secrets back to its creators. The code could activate computer microphones and cameras, log keyboard strokes, take screen shots, extract geo­location data from images, and send and receive commands and data through Bluetooth wireless technology. [...]

The effort to delay Iran’s nuclear program using cyber-techniques began in the mid-2000s, during President George W. Bush’s second term. At that point it consisted mainly of gathering intelligence to identify potential targets and create tools to disrupt them. In 2008, the program went operational and shifted from military to CIA control, former officials said.

Despite their collaboration on developing the malicious code, the United States and Israel have not always coordinated their attacks. Israel’s April assaults on Iran’s Oil Ministry and oil-export facilities caused only minor disruptions. The episode led Iran to investigate and ultimately discover Flame.

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