Jun 04, 2012

Does the Flame malware that was reported in the Middle East have any wider security implications?

I don't know much about the Flame malware that was reported last week beyond the "facts" that it was probably designed by the US and/or Israeli governments, it targeted Iran and it was a large piece of software. What, if any, new threats does it introduce that require additional security steps for businesses here in the US?

Here's a good background article about it.

Flame (malware)

"Flame,[a] also known as Flamer, sKyWIper,[b] and Skywiper,[2] is modular computer malware discovered in 2012[3][4] that attacks computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system.[5] The program is being used for targeted cyber espionage in Middle Eastern countries.[1][5][6] Its discovery was announced on 28 May 2012 by MAHER Center of Iranian National Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT),[5] Kaspersky Lab[6] and CrySyS Lab of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.[1] The last of these stated in its report that "sKyWIper is certainly the most sophisticated malware we encountered during our practice; arguably, it is the most complex malware ever found."[1]

Flame can spread to other systems over a local network (LAN) or via USB stick. It can record audio, screenshots, keyboard activity and network traffic.[6] The program also records Skype conversations and can turn infected computers into Bluetooth beacons which attempt to download contact information from nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices.[7] These data, along with locally stored documents, are sent on to one of several command and control servers that are scattered around the world. The program then awaits further instructions from these servers.[6]

According to estimates by Kaspersky in May 2012, Flame had infected approximately 1,000 machines,[7] with victims including governmental organizations, educational institutions and private individuals.[6] At that time the countries most affected were Iran, Israel, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt,[3][6] with a "huge majority of targets" within the first.[8] The program ceased operation after its exposure in the media.[8]"

Microsoft just released a patch a day or so ago that plugs the hole exploited by Flame (or at least claims to).  Apparently Flame used a method that let it falsify a MS digital credential so that it looks like an update for enterprise users with remote desktops.  And it was around since at least 2010.  Which is nice.   


I have read conflicting accounts of how serious of a development Flame really is.  Kaspersky  has been ringing the alarm bells very loudly, although they did note that it was a very targeted piece of malware.  There is always a risk of something targeted getting "off-target" and causing all kinds of unintended consequences.  Still, the risk to most companies is so small as to be negligible.  We just aren't its target.  The ironic thing is that overall security is probably increased by the discovery, since yet another vulnerability is addressed.  Total security is like trying to squeeze a handful of water; it will never be accomplished.   

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