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The Flame - Malware Worthy of John Brunner

A new piece of malware, dubbed "Flame" by Kaspersky Lab in Russia, is now making the rounds in the Middle East.


(Number and geographical location of Flame infections)

Early analysis of Flame by the Lab indicates that it’s designed primarily to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes. It also opens a backdoor to infected systems to allow the attackers to tweak the toolkit and add new functionality.

The malware, which is 20 megabytes when all of its modules are installed, contains multiple libraries, SQLite3 databases, various levels of encryption — some strong, some weak — and 20 plug-ins that can be swapped in and out to provide various functionality for the attackers. It even contains some code that is written in the LUA programming language — an uncommon choice for malware.

Kaspersky Lab is calling it “one of the most complex threats ever discovered.”

Because Flame is so big, it gets loaded to a system in pieces. The machine first gets hit with a 6-megabyte component, which contains about half a dozen other compressed modules inside. The main component extracts, decompresses and decrypts these modules and writes them to various locations on disk. The number of modules in an infection depends on what the attackers want to do on a particular machine.

SF fans recall that John Brunner created the idea of a computer tapeworm in his 1975 novel The Shockwave Rider. Read about the complexity of this fictional creation:

"My newest [tapeworm] breeds by itself. For a head it wears a maximum-national-advantage rating, a priority code... allocated to ... hypercorps ... treated for years as though above the law...

Right behind that, my worm wears a U-group code... the owner of a U-group will never find himself in jail...

In back of that, there's the key which opens the secure data banks at all secret psychological research establishments. Behind that is the one which opens Treasury files on tax-avoidance suits unpursued by presidential order....

By now, I don't know exactly what there is in the worm. More bits are being added automatically as it works its way to places I never dreamed existed.

Here's a bit more from ESecurity Planet on the Flame virus and its size:

Although it is still early days in the full analysis of Flamer, one thing is clear -– the codebase is massive.

"Flamer is the largest piece of malware that we've ever analyzed," said Symantec's Thakur. "It could take weeks if not months to actually go through the whole thing."

McAfee's Marcus noted that most of the malware he encounters is in the 1 MB to 3 MB range, whereas Flamer is 30 MB or more.

"You're literally talking about an order of complexity that is far greater than anything we have run into in a while," Marcus said.

More recently, fans of sf writer David Webber recall the Malware in Out of the Dark. Even to the point of it's origin in the middle east. In the story, the Shongairi, an alien race, has come to take over earth. To understand earthlings better before the attack, they unleash a malware program just like the "Flame".

Via Wired and ESecurity Planet; thanks also to William Carroll at ExpandUrMind for the tip and a reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/28/2012)

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