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News Analysis

'Flaming' Attack on Iran

by: 
Ryan Mauro

An extremely advanced cyber attack, dubbed "The Flame," has been detected in seven Middle Eastern countries. To no one’s surprise, Iran is, by far, the Number 1 target of the intelligence-gathering malware. The CEO of Kaspersky Lab says Flame is 20 times as complex as the Stuxnet malware that did serious damage to Iran’s nuclear program, making it the most sophisticated cyber attack on record.

Experts agree that Flame was most certainly created by a government, drawing immediate suspicion to Israel and possibly the U.S. It has been infecting computer systems in the Middle East since February or March 2010 and was only detected just now. Its authors’ primary target is Iran, where 189 infections have been counted.

The second biggest target is Israel and the Palestinian territories (98 infections), followed by Sudan (32), Syria (30), Lebanon (18), Saudi Arabia (10) and Egypt (5). The purpose of the malware appears to be information-gathering and not sabotage, but little is known at this point.  Kaspersky says that “Flame can sniff network traffic, take screenshots, record audio conversations, intercept a keyboard and more.”

In late April, Iran announced that its oil industry had come under cyber attack, specifically its Ministry of Oil and a terminal in Kharg Island where 80% of Iran’s oil exports are sent from. Iran admitted that “data related to some of the users have been compromised,” and two government oil-related ministries were taken down by the attackers. The objective appears to have again been intelligence-gathering and perhaps to frighten the regime.

In March, Symantec found out that the operators of the “Duqu” attack, the follow-up to Stuxnet, continued to modify and deploy it even after it was discovered

On January 11, an Iranian nuclear scientist that worked at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility was assassinated. Since then, at least 10 high-level Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen have died unexpectedly, many in “apparently violent circumstances.” According to Israel National News, these incidents include a close relative of Supreme Leader Khamenei suffering a fatal heart attack, two officials dying in car accidents and two being blatantly murdered. The report attributes their deaths to “tension over those [regime business] holdings,” but based on the pattern of apparent covert operations against Iran.

I’m not convinced.

In January, the Israeli military’s chief of staff predicted that 2012 would be a “critical year” in handling the Iranian threat and that there will be “events that happen unnaturally.” He wasn’t taking a guess.

Ryan Mauro is RadicalIslam.org's National Security analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.