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Friday, June 1, 2012

new potentially complex virus, called "Flame" or "Skywiper,"


Sometimes we are afflicted by ‘fever’ caused by viruses.  Viral fever refers to a broad spectrum of conditions where viral infections are associated with elevations of body temperature. Most viral infections are spread by inhalation of aerosolised particles, by intake of contaminated water or food, or by direct contact. Infection then spreads locally and thereafter into the blood stream or lymph channels.  A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of organism, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea.

Often the Computers and electronic devices that we use malfunction, probably attacked and affected by Computer Virus.  It is nothing physical but a computer program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer.  Commonly, the  term "virus" is used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have a reproductive ability.  Technically, a worm can exploit security vulnerabilities to spread itself automatically to other computers through networks, while a Trojan horse is a program that appears harmless but hides malicious functions. Whatever be thy name, they harm a computer system's data or performance.

There is antidote in the form of ‘Antivirus or anti-virus software’ that could  prevent, detect and remove malware.  They use  a variety of strategies searching for known patterns of data within executable code. However, it is possible for a computer to be infected with new malware for which no signature is yet known. To counter such so-called zero-day threats, heuristics can be used.

Now there is news abuzz of a new potentially complex virus, dubbed "Flame" or "Skywiper," which is infecting and stealing information from computers in Iran and the Middle East.  The Daily Telegraph reports that the malicious software is 20 times more powerful than any other known cyber warfare programmes including the infamous Stuxnet virus, and could only have been created by a state.  Flame, reportedly, is the third computer virus aimed at systems in the Middle East to have been exposed in the past three years.  In the past,  Iran has accused Israel and the West of using cyber warfare to sabotage its nuclear programme.

The Flame virus was detected by Kaspersky Labs, a Russian security firm that specialises in targeting malicious computer codes and which was set up by the discoverer of Stuxnet,  and reportedly this new virus is supposedly extremely sophisticated.  There are lurking fears that if  Flame went on undiscovered for five years, the only logical conclusion is that there are other operations ongoing that we don’t know about.  

Reportedly, Flame can gather data files, remotely change settings on computers, turn on computer microphones to record conversations, take screen shots and copy instant messaging chats.  It is so complex that researchers feel that what they have learnt of the virus is only minimal.  Kaspersky  laboratory’s research shows the largest number of infected machines are in Iran, followed by the Israel/Palestine region, then Sudan and Syria.  The virus contains about 20 times as much code as Stuxnet, which attacked an Iranian uranium enrichment facility, causing centrifuges to fail. It has about 100 times as much code as a typical virus designed to steal financial information.

The news is certain to stoke speculation that the virus is part of a growing list of examples of intelligence agencies waging cyberwar on foreign governments or other targets.  The added fear is that once  a machine is infected additional modules can be added to the system allowing the machine to undertake specific tracking projects.

The earlier one, Stuxnet is a computer worm discovered in June 2010 which initially spread via Microsoft Windows, and targets Siemens industrial software and equipment.  The worm initially spreads indiscriminately, but includes a highly specialized malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition systems that are configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes
 
A computer worm is a standalone malware computer program that replicates itself in order to spread to other computers. Often, it uses a computer network to spread itself. This is due to security shortcomings on the target computer. Unlike a computer virus, it does not need to attach itself to an existing program. Worms almost always cause at least some harm to the network, even if only by consuming bandwidth, whereas viruses almost always corrupt or modify files on a targeted computer.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
29th May 2012.

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