Coy Israel intimates it has the skills to create a virus such as ‘Flame’

Quoting Israeli deputy PM’s enigmatic comments, Iran blames ‘Zionist regime’ for cyber-espionage worm that has infected hundreds of computer systems across the Middle East

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s deputy prime minister on Tuesday chose not to deny Israeli responsibility for the sophisticated computer virus “Flame” which has hit Iranian and other computer systems in the region, instead intimating that Israel does possess the kind of skills necessary to create and infiltrate the virus.

“Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat is likely to take various steps, including these, to hobble it,” said an enigmatic Deputy PM and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon Tuesday, responding to a question as to whether Israel could be behind Flame.

“Israel has been blessed with a prolific hi-tech sector,” Ya’alon added, in an interview to Army Radio. “These tools open all kinds of possibilities for us.”

Iran immediately seized on Ya’alon’s comments as ostensible proof of Israeli responsibility for Flame. The official news agency, Fars, quoted Yaalon’s statements in an article headline, “The Zionist regime admits to creating the espionage virus activated against Iran.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister issued a statement asserting that “Illegitimate regimes” were responsible for dispersing the virus.

Ya’alon said he agreed with experts’ estimates that the large-scale cyber attack, which has infiltrated thousands of computer systems in Iran and across the Middle East, was probably the work of a state rather than a private initiative. Only a state could possess the resources necessary to develop such an advanced cyber weapon, he agreed, and noted that Western countries were doing all they could to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Ya’alon said that the discovery of the virus, which has reportedly attacked 190 Iranian computer systems and hundreds of others across the region, raised awareness of countries’ need to defend themselves from external cyber attacks. He said that one of the most important decisions passed by the Netanyahu government was the establishment of a national cyber taskforce.

“Israel is susceptible to cyber attacks and is taking measures to protect itself,” said Ya’alon.

In an attempt to distance Israel from responsibility for for spreading, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said Tuesday that Israeli computer systems were also infected with the malware.

The cyber-espionage worm, designed to collect and delete sensitive information, is said to have 20 times as much code as Stuxnet, which attacked an Iranian uranium enrichment facility (and some 16,000 computers), causing centrifuges to fail. Iran blamed Israel and the US for its creation. Experts believe that only a state could be behind the development of such a sophisticated virus.

Flame is also believed to contain an element that was used in Stuxnet. Experts from Internet security company Kaspersky, the company that uncovered the virus, said the Flame malware may have been lurking inside thousands of computers across the Middle East for between five and eight years.

Relating to last week’s talks in Baghdad between Iran and the six world powers known as the P5+1, Ya’alon said the talks produced “no significant achievement except for the Iranians having been given another three weeks or so to pursue the nuclear project until the next meeting in Moscow.”

“To my regret, I don’t see any sense of urgency, and perhaps it is even in the interest of some players in the West to stretch out the time, which would certainly square with the Iranian interest.”

Iranian authorities have confirmed being attacked by Flame and instructed their relevant hierarchies to run an urgent inspection of all computer systems in the country.

Iran’s MAHER Center said Tuesday that the Flame virus “has caused substantial damage” and that “massive amounts of data have been lost.”

The center, which is part of Iran’s Communication’s Ministry, said that the virus’s level of complexity, accuracy and high-functionality indicated that there is a “relation” to the Stuxnet virus.

Iranian experts said that Flame was able to overcome 43 different anti-virus programs.

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