New supervirus hits Iran

Published Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Security experts have uncovered an ongoing cyber espionage campaign targeting Iran and other Middle Eastern countries that they say stands out because it is the first such operation using communications tools written in Farsi.

The cyberwarfare tool is the fourth discovered targeting Iran in as many years, following Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame, which security analysts agree were almost certainly built and unleashed by national governments.

Israel and the United States were largely suspected of being behind the Flame supervirus that targeted Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli security company Seculert and Russia's Kaspersky Lab said on Tuesday that they identified more than 800 victims of the operation.

The targets include critical infrastructure companies, engineering students, financial services firms and government embassies located in five Middle Eastern countries, with the majority of the infections in Iran.

Seculert and Kaspersky declined to identify specific targets of the campaign, which they believe began at least eight months ago. They said they did not know who was behind the attacks or if was a nation state.

"It's for sure somebody who is fluent in Persian, but we don't know the origin of those guys," said Seculert Chief Technology Officer Aviv Raff.

The Mahdi Trojan lets remote attackers steal files from infected PCs and monitor emails and instant messages, Seculert and Kaspersky said. It can also record audio, log keystrokes and take screen shots of activity on those computers.

The firms said they believed multiple gigabytes of data have been uploaded from targeted machines.

"Somebody is trying to build a dossier of a larger scale on something," Raff said. "We don't know what they are going to do at the end."

Seculert and Kaspersky dubbed the campaign Mahdi, a term referring to the prophesied redeemer of Islam, because evidence suggests the attackers used a folder with that name as they developed the software to run the project.

They also included a text file named mahdi.txt in the malicious software that infected target computers.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

Comments

Once it's out there, the code get also get into the hands of citizens or terrorists with a sophisticated knowledge of software coding. That's why some cybersecurity advocates are calling on the U.S. government to better protect itself against an all-out "code war" that some see as inevitable.

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