Flame worm one of the most complex threats ever discovered

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   May 30, 2012

Malware possibly used for cyber-espionage.

The jury is out on whether 'Flame' (also known as 'Flamer' or 'Skywiper') is 'the most lethal cyberweapon to date' as some have claimed, or just a highly complex and sophisticated piece of malware. But simply from looking at the volume of security vendors' blog posts dedicated to the malware since its discovery this week, it is clear that Flame is far from ordinary.

One thing we do know is that there is a lot that isn't known yet. Because of both its size - when fully deployed, it is almost 20MB - and its complexity, researchers expect the full analysis to take several months at least.

What is known is that Flame is a modular piece of malware that has worm-like features, which allows it to spread on a local network. The use of modules is not unique to Flame: prevalent trojans such as ZeuS and SpyEye allow for the use of modules or plug-ins. However, whereas the latter kinds of malware are used to target the masses (stealing online banking details, sending spam), Flame's capabilities, which include network-sniffing, taking screenshots and recording audio conversations, suggest it is being used for cyber-espionage purposes.

So far, a few hundred infections are known, with victims varying from individuals to state-related organisations. Most of the victims are located in the Middle East: of the few hundred known infections, Iran features most prominently as a location, followed by Israel and Sudan.

The complexity of the malware, the prevalence of infections in Iran, as well as a number of technical features (such as the use of the Lua scripting language), suggest similarities with Stuxnet and Duqu. However, there are many differences too: unlike Stuxnet it does not appear to target SCADAs and the number of infections is probably significantly larger than that of Duqu. It is currently unclear whether the malware uses any zero-day exploits.

It is possible that Flame was developed by the same group that developed Stuxnet and Duqu, though likely as a parallel project. Given the location of the infections and the fact that developing something like Flame would require huge resources, many believe the governments of one or more rich Western nations are behind the malware. However, as with Duqu and Stuxnet, noone has been able to prove such claims.

While it has been discovered only recently, it is believed that Flame has been around for some time, possibly going back as far as March 2010. Writing about the malware, F-Secure's Mikko Hyppönen said that this is a case where the anti-virus industry has failed.

Virus Bulletin will continue to follow the developments around Flame and report about it on www.virusbtn.com and on our Twitter feed. While complacency is rarely a good idea when it comes to cybercrime, it is worth pointing out that the vast majority of users and organisations are unlikely to be affected by the malware.

Possibly the best introduction to Flame is this set of FAQs at Kaspersky's Securelist blog. Flame was first reported by MAHER, the Iranian CERT, whose report can be found here. A thorough analysis was performed in a report by the Hungarian CrySys lab here (PDF).

Posted on 30 May 2012 by Virus Bulletin

twitter.png
fb.png
linkedin.png
hackernews.png
reddit.png

 

Latest posts:

VB2020 call for papers - now open!

Have you analysed a new online threat? Do you know a new way to defend against such threats? Are you tasked with securing systems and fending off attacks? The call for papers for VB2020 is now open and we want to hear from you!

VB2019 paper: Operation Soft Cell - a worldwide campaign against telecommunication providers

Today we publish the VB2019 paper by Cybereason researchers Mor Levi, Amit Serper and Assaf Dahan on Operation Soft Cell, a targeted attack against telecom providers around the world.

VB2019 paper: A study of Machete cyber espionage operations in Latin America

At VB2019 in London a group of researchers from the Stratosphere Lab at the Czech Technical University in Prague presented a paper in which they analysed and dissected the cyber espionage activities of an APT group in Latin America through the…

VB2019 paper: The push from fiction for increased surveillance, and its impact on privacy

In a paper presented at VB2019 in London, researchers Miriam Cihodariu (Heimdal Security) and Andrei Bogdan Brad (Code4Romania) looked at how surveillance is represented in fiction and how these representations are shaping people's attitudes to…

VB2019 paper: Oops! It happened again!

At VB2019 in London industry veterans Righard Zwienenberg and Eddy Willems took a detailed look at the relationship between past and current cyber threats. Today, we publish both their paper and the recording of their presentation.

We have placed cookies on your device in order to improve the functionality of this site, as outlined in our cookies policy. However, you may delete and block all cookies from this site and your use of the site will be unaffected. By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to Virus Bulletin's use of data as outlined in our privacy policy.