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Report Says U.S., Israel Targeted Iran With 'Flame' Virus

  • RFE/RL

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speaks during the International Cyber Security Conference at Tel Aviv University on June 6.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speaks during the International Cyber Security Conference at Tel Aviv University on June 6.

There's been no official reaction yet to a “Washington Post” report saying the United States and Israel jointly developed a computer virus called "Flame" aimed at disrupting Iran's nuclear program.

The June 19 report, citing Western officials, said the development of the malware, discovered last month on computers used by the Iranian Oil Ministry, began five years ago.

The report said the U.S. National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency worked with Israel’s military on the project.

The report said the malware, described as the most sophisticated cyberweapon to be exposed to date, penetrated targeted computers by posing as a Microsoft software update.

The report says the program monitored Iran’s computer network, sending information back to its controllers about what the computers did, including copying documents, logging keystrokes, taking screen shots, and even activating computer microphones and cameras.

'Preparing The Battlefield'

According to the report, the “Flame” virus was designed to collect intelligence “in preparation for cybersabotage aimed at slowing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.”

The campaign included the use of destructive software such as the "Stuxnet" worm, which was discovered in 2010 and designed to cause malfunctions in Iran’s uranium-enrichment operation.

"The Washington Post" quoted one former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official as saying, "This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action."

“Cybercollection against the Iranian program is way further down the road" than just “Flame” and “Stuxnet,” the former official added.

Unilateral Operation

“Flame” came to light after Iran detected a series of cyberattacks against its oil industry.

According to a number of U.S. and Western officials quoted in the report, this disruption was directed by Israel in a unilateral operation that apparently caught its U.S. partners off-guard.

The Russian-based security company Kaspersky Lab reported last week that “Flame” contained some of the same code as “Stuxnet.”

This overlap was described as evidence that the teams responsible for the two sets of malware worked together.

Recently, a “New York Times” investigation, based on interviews with U.S., European, and Israeli officials, had singled out the United States as being responsible for “Stuxnet.” But it also said the cyberweapon had been developed in cooperation with Israel.

The disclosure about the malware follows this week's failure in Moscow of the latest round of talks between Iran and six world powers -- including the United States -- over the Iranian nuclear program and Iran's refusal to halt uranium-enrichment work that could be directed toward development of an atomic weapon.

Iran denies allegations it is pursuing a nuclear weapon.

With reporting by "The Washington Post," dpa, AFP, and Reuters

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