Report: Flame Virus A Joint U.S.-Israeli Project Like Stuxnet
The United States and Israel jointly developed a sophisticated computer virus nicknamed Flame that collected intelligence in preparation for cyber-sabotage aimed at slowing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon, according to Western officials with knowledge of the effort.
The massive piece of malware secretly mapped and monitored Iran’s computer networks, sending back a steady stream of intelligence to prepare for a cyberwarfare campaign, according to the officials.
The effort, involving the National Security Agency, the CIA and Israel’s military, has included the use of destructive software such as the Stuxnet virus to cause malfunctions in Iran’s nuclear-enrichment equipment.
The emerging details about Flame provide new clues to what is thought to be the first sustained campaign of cyber-sabotage against an adversary of the United States.
“This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action,” said one former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, who added that Flame and Stuxnet were elements of a broader assault that continues today. “Cyber-collection against the Iranian program is way further down the road than this.”
Flame came to light last month after Iran detected a series of cyberattacks on its oil industry. The disruption was directed by Israel in a unilateral operation that apparently caught its American partners off guard, according to several U.S. and Western officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
There has been speculation that Washington had a role in developing Flame, but the collaboration on the virus between the United States and Israel has not been previously confirmed. Commercial security researchers reported last week that Flame contained some of the same code as Stuxnet. Experts described the overlap as DNA-like evidence that the two sets of malware were parallel projects run by the same entity.
Spokesmen for the CIA, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as well as the Israeli Embassy in Washington, declined to comment.
Well of course they did. You wouldn’t expect them to admit it now would you? In all honestly, I’m not sure why stories like this are getting leaked out to begin with. Wouldn’t we prefer that our role in all of this remain secret? Of course, the other alternative is that the leaks are strategic in that they are designed to say to the Iranians “See, this is what we can do to you” as a way of persuading them to make concessions during the ongoing, and so far largely fruitless, negotiations over their nuclear weapons program. Not a bad idea, perhaps, but it strikes me that such admissions are just as likely to enrage the Iranians as they are to scare them.