Flame On!

// Posted by on 02/24/2013 (10:14 PM)

After our discussion about Wired Magazine’s Stuxnet story, I became interested in the new piece of malware that was discovered in Stuxnet’s wake. It’s called Flame, and its size and complexity dwarfs its news-making predecessor. According to Wired, the program’s ”complexity, the geographic scope of its infections and its behavior indicate strongly that a nation-state is behind Flame, rather than common cyber-criminals.” For those who followed news about Stuxnet, this should come as no surprise since the United States is an alleged creator of that malware (among other suspects). Flame’s main mission is to infect targeted computers and to spy on them, extracting specific bits of data that is useful for the creators. Because of its incredible size and complexity, cracking the puzzle could take years. Among the many functions of flame, these are the ones that stand out:

“…one that turns on the internal microphone of an infected machine to secretly record conversations that occur either over Skype or in the computer’s near vicinity; a module that turns Bluetooth-enabled computers into a Bluetooth beacon, which scans for other Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity to siphon names and phone numbers from their contacts folder; and a module that grabs and stores frequent screenshots of activity on the machine, such as instant-messaging and e-mail communications, and sends them via a covert SSL channel to the attackers’ command-and-control servers.”

There are a lot of lines in that quote. However, the main takeaway is that an incredibly skilled group of individuals has the ability to completely take over a computer from thousands of miles away, and the complexity of their code can take people wanting to fight it years to solve. This sort of espionage is taking place all around the world, and it represents a new type of war that is being fought: an invisible war that is not necessarily resulting in bloodshed, but rather the theft and capture of digital data. While there may not be any losses of life on either side of the conflict at the moment, the real danger lies in how the stolen data can, and will, be used.

According to Mashable, “Flame is a covert operation in cyber-space and without a doubt, it’s been commissioned by a nation-state or nation-states…global governments are investing more and more money in so-called offensive capabilities, and it’s a lot easier and cheaper than traditional espionage and warfare.” Is this the way that wars will be fought in years to come? Although regular computer users are not the intended targets by any means, should we as consumers and United States citizens choose to condemn or praise this kind of behavior? Even though we, personally, are not affected by Flame, it is possible that our permissiveness is what leads to governments (like our own) that support this kind of cyber espionage.

Here’s a video describing how malware, like Flame, spreads from user to user.


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Sam said...

I’m sure I’ll be the first one to say it (but definitely not the last)…though I understand and would like to think I comprehend how dangerous these situations can be, it’s a bit difficult for me to create a frame of reference for myself regarding this type of malware. The geniuses behind Flame are never going to attack my computer-I just don’t matter to them. I’d be willing to bet that goes for all of us. So how can something like Flame affect us directly, as regular civilians? Can it hack into some crazy NSA server and indirectly affect us that way, etc.?

// 02/25/2013 at 7:47 pm

Sam said...

Example: This article a flame-related article that might help to answer the question:

// 02/25/2013 at 7:50 pm