Two major security firms say the people behind the Flame virus may have already developed three similar viruses that haven’t yet been discovered in action. The claims will raise more questions about the involvement of the US government in cyber-warfare.
Flame shared code with the Stuxnet virus, which appeared to have been developed specifically to physically damage equipment used in Iran’s controversial nuclear program. That, and the sheer complexity of the viruses, has often prompted speculation that the US was behind them. Major US newspapers and news agencies have since quoted anonymous sources suggesting the viruses were part of an operation authorized at the highest level.
Now both Russia’s Kaspersky and the US-based Symantec have produced reports suggesting similar viruses created by the same hands (though they don’t say who the responsible party is.) The two security firms worked separately on their research but appear to have coordinated the releases.
The key is “Newsforyou”, a piece of software that appears to be a website content management tool but is actually a way of managing the command and control servers that issue instructions to infected machines. That’s particularly important as Flame worked in a sophisticated modular manner, such that each infected machine could have a particular combination of spying tools, making detection and cleaning more difficult.
According to Kaspersky and Symantec, Newsforyou dealt with four programs. One is known to be Flame, while the others are simply codenamed IP, SP and SPE. At least one of the programs is already active on infected machines in Iran and Lebanon and is trying to communicate with the command and control servers.
To add to the intrigue, the researchers say they’ve can access some data on one of the command and control servers but cannot read it because its encryption is simply too tough to crack. That’s yet another hint to military or government involvement.