Flame computer virus is more sophisticated than Stuxnet
Data-stealing virus has been lurking undetected in Middle East computers for up to five years
SECURITY experts have discovered the world’s most complex computer virus, dubbed Flame, which they say has been lurking undetected in computers in Iran and the Middle East for up to five years.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the malicious software is 20 times more powerful than any other known cyber warfare programmes including the infamous Stuxnet virus, and could only have been created by a state.
Flame is the third computer virus aimed at systems in the Middle East to have been exposed in the past three years: Iran has accused Israel and the West of using cyber warfare to sabotage its nuclear programme.
The Flame virus was detected by Kaspersky Labs, a Russian security firm that specialises in targeting malicious computer codes and which was set up by the discoverer of Stuxnet, Eugene Kaspersky. Senior researcher Roel Schouwenberg said they had never seen such sophisticated programming.
"If Flame went on undiscovered for five years, the only logical conclusion is that there are other operations ongoing that we don’t know about," Schouwenberg said
Flame can gather data files, remotely change settings on computers, turn on computer microphones to record conversations, take screen shots and copy instant messaging chats.
Researchers at Kaspersky said they were only starting to understand how Flame works because it is so complex. The full significance will not be known until other cyber security firms work with samples of Flame, which Kaspersky has now made available.
The laboratory’s research shows the largest number of infected machines are in Iran, followed by the Israel/Palestine region, then Sudan and Syria.
The virus contains about 20 times as much code as Stuxnet, which attacked an Iranian uranium enrichment facility, causing centrifuges to fail. It has about 100 times as much code as a typical virus designed to steal financial information.
Schouwenberg says he believed the attack was highly targeted, aimed mainly at businesses and academic institutions. He estimated that no more than 5,000 personal computers around the world have been infected, including a handful in North America.