TEHRAN - Computer technicians battling to contain a complex virus last month resorted to the ultimate firewall measures - cutting off Internet links to Iran’s Oil Ministry, rigs, and the hub for nearly all the country’s crude exports.
At the time, Iranian officials described it as a data-siphoning blitz on key oil networks.
On Wednesday, they gave it a name: A strike by the powerful Flame malware that experts this week have called a new and highly sophisticated program capable of hauling away computer files and even listening in on computer users. Its origins remain a mystery, but international suspicion quickly fell on Israel opening another front in its suspected covert wars with archenemy Tehran.
“This virus penetrated some fields. One of them was the oil sector,’’ said Gholam Reza Jalali, of an Iranian military unit in charge of fighting sabotage. “Fortunately, we detected and controlled this single incident.’’
The Flame virus - a mix of cyberspy and hard-drive burglar - has been detected across the Middle East recently. But Iran’s linkage to the oil network attack in April could mark its first major infiltration and suggests a significant escalation in attempts to disrupt Iran’s key commercial and nuclear sites. Iran is one of the world’s leading oil producers.
The Flame programis widely considered a technological leap in break-in programming. Some analysts also see the same high level of engineering which many think was Israeli intelligence.