In late May, Russian security firm Kaspersky Labs discovered that malware known as the Flame virus had carried out a wide-scale cyberattack that involved collecting private data from Iran, Israel and other countries in the Middle East. Kaspersky Labs, which is Europe’s largest antivirus company, said that it believed the attack to be state-sponsored due to the sophistication of the program, which was able to collect massive amounts of sensitive information by “sniffing the network traffic, taking screenshots, recording audio conversations, intercepting the keyboard” and other techniques, as Kaspersky’s chief malware expert Vitaly Kamluk explained.
Just today, whoever created the Flame virus sent a “suicide” command which removes it from computers that have been infected.
Should There Be an International Ban on Cyberwarfare?
Kasperky’s firm had undertaken research about the virus in conjunction with the United Nations International Telecommunication Union. Kaspersky has described cyberweapons as “the most dangerous innovation of this century.” Based on his company’s role in decrypting the Flame virus, Kaspersky has called for an international ban on cyberwarfare, with the aim of preventing militaries and spy agencies from making viruses.
Russia has indeed called for such a ban and Kaspersky’s support for it “already faces suspicions that it is tied to the Russian government, accusations Mr. Kaspersky has constantly denied as he has built his business,” says the New York Times. While the US has agreed to a bilateral disarmament treaty with Russia, it has “long objected to the Russian crusade for an online arms control ban,” along with calling on Russia to prosecute online crime.
Kaspersky has compared the Flame virus to Stuxnet, which was built by programmers employed by the US and Israel. Both countries have used cyberweapons to infiltrate Iran’s ability to make nuclear bombs. But cyberweapons can have numerous other purposes including disrupting power grids, financial systems and military defenses, says the New York Times. American officials have declined to comment on whether the US was responsible for the Flame virus attack.
Olympic Games: Concerted Cyberattacks Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities
Reports have been surfacing about President Obama ordering an increase in cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities in what the New York Times calls a notable expansion of “America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons.” These attacks, under the code name Olympic Games, were begun under the Bush Administration. Obama called for stepping up the attacks even after a programming error in the summer of 2010 resulted in the program escaping from Iran’s Natanz plant and being sent around the world via the Internet, thereby exposing the details of the program.
In the wake of the New York Times article about the stepped-up cyberattacks, some Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns that the White House has “taken too much war-making power from Congress.” As Politico states, the Constitution grants the power to make war to Congress but is “silent on cyberwar.” White House officials are utilizing cyberweapons “without anybody except a very few people knowing about it, much less having any impact on whether it’s happening or not,” says Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).
The last paragraph of the New York Times article says that Obama has “repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and particularly to overusing — the weapon.” It goes without saying that the US’s infrastructure is deeply dependent on computer systems and therefore highly vulnerable to an attack. Most experts warn that it is “only a matter of time… before [the US] becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.”
Just this evening, US Attorney General Eric R. Holder has directed two US Attorneys to investigate the recent disclosures to the media about cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear weapons program and about drone strikes. The attorneys are to “follow all appropriate investigative leads within the executive and legislative branches of government.”
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