A malicious new programme affecting computers in several countries has been detected by Kaspersky Lab, known as Worm.Win32.Flame (Flame, for short).
The malware is, in Kaspersky Labs' words, "designed to carry out cyber espionage" and is capable of accessing and stealing computer display contents, information about systems, stored files, data and audio conversations.
It looks as though Flame has been around "in the wild" since March 2010 but it managed to elude all security programmes due to its complexity.
In fact, Kaspersky Labs describes it thusly: "The complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious program exceeds those of all other cyber menaces known to date."
Not much is known about Flame at the moment. Because of its size (about 20 times larger than Stuxnet), Kaspersky needs a large team of experts with specific experience to work on finding out more.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) requested Kaspersky's investigation after another worm, Wiper, was detected deleting data on a number of computers in Western Asia.
While investigating this still-mysterious Wiper, Kaspersky came across the equally worrying Flame malware, which Kaspersky Labs co-founder and CEO Eugene Kaspersky describes as "another phase" in the war begun by the previous Stuxnet and Duqu viruses.
"It's important to understand that such cyber weapons can easily be used against any country," he added.
"Unlike with conventional warfare, the more developed countries are actually the most vulnerable in this case."
Chief security expert at Kaspesky Lab Alexander Gostev added that, "One of the most alarming facts is that the Flame cyber-attack campaign is currently in its active phase, and its operator is consistently surveying infected systems, collecting information and targeting new systems to accomplish its unknown goals."
So there's a vicious cyber weapon on the loose and someone somewhere is controlling it. So what's the plan? Not much can be done until we know more, so the ITU is activating the ITU-Impact network which sees 142 countries and a number of companies working together to alert governments to the threat and speed up the technical analysis phase.
Kaspersky Labs is going to be keeping a close eye on this process so we should find out more in the coming weeks.
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