|Risks of boomerangs a reality in world of cyberwar — officials |
|Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012 9:08 pm |
|WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is warning American businesses about an unusually potent computer virus that infected Iran’s oil industry even as suspicions persist that the United States is responsible for secretly creating and unleashing cyberweapons against foreign countries. |
The government’s dual roles of alerting U.S. companies about these threats and producing powerful software weapons and eavesdropping tools underscore the risks of an unintended, online boomerang.
Unlike a bullet or missile fired at an enemy, a cyberweapon that spreads across the Internet may circle back accidentally to infect computers it was never supposed to target. It’s one of the unusual challenges facing the programmers who build such weapons, and presidents who must decide when to launch them.
The Homeland Security Department’s warning about the new virus, known as “Flame,” assured U.S. companies that no infections had been discovered so far inside the U.S. It described Flame as an espionage tool that was sophisticated in design, using encryption and other techniques to help break into computers and move through corporate or private networks. The virus can eavesdrop on data traffic, take screenshots and record audio and keystrokes. The department said the origin is a mystery.
The White House has declined to discuss the virus.
But suspicions about the U.S. government’s role in the use of cyberweapons were heightened by a report in Friday’s New York Times. Based on anonymous sources, it said President Obama secretly had ordered the use of another sophisticated cyberweapon, known as Stuxnet, to attack the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities. The order was an extension of a sabotage program that the Times said began during the Bush administration.
Private security researchers long have suspected that the U.S. and Israeli governments were responsible for Stuxnet.
But the newspaper’s detailed description of conversations in the Oval Office among Obama, the vice president and the CIA director about the U.S. government’s responsibility for Stuxnet is the most direct evidence of this to date. U.S. officials rarely discuss the use of cyberweapons outside of classified settings.
Stuxnet is believed to have been released as early as 2009. It was discovered in June 2010 by a Belarusian antivirus researcher analyzing a customer’s infected computer in Iran. It targeted electronic program controllers built by Siemens AG of Germany that were installed in Iran. The U.S. government also circulated warnings to American businesses about Stuxnet after it was detected.
Published in The Messenger 6.4.12