A top Israeli minister has fed speculation that the Jewish state could be responsible for a powerful new virus said to have been used in an attack on computers across the Middle East.
The discovery of the unprecedented, complex, data-stealing Flame virus was disclosed by a Russian based digital security firm Kaspersky Lab. Its experts reported on Monday that it had been applied most actively in Iran, but also in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Moshe Yaalon, Israel's Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister, told a radio station: "Anyone who sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat – it's reasonable [to assume] that he will take various steps, including these, to harm it."
Mr Yaalon, a former military Chief of Staff, added: "Israel was blessed as being a country rich with hi-tech, these tools that we take pride in open up all kinds of opportunities for us."
He stopped short of directly claiming responsibility, but Israel's government has long been in the forefront of opposition to Iran's nuclear programme, which is currently the subject of difficult negotiations between Tehran and six world powers.
Although there are already many viruses that can steal large amounts of data, few have been as comprehensive as Flame or steal in so many different ways. The security industry is still in the early stages of examining what exactly Flame can do but examples already given include hijacking a computer's microphone to record conversations, taking screen shots during chats through instant messenger and even stealing data from devices that are attached to an infected computer through a Bluetooth connection.
The Flame virus is believed to the third and, at least in information gathering, most effective cyber attack on Iranian computer systems in recent years. There are disagreements over how long it has been in existence.
Kaspersky say the attacks began around 2010, but analysts at Budapest University's renowned Cryptography and System Security, which has also been analysing the virus since March, say evidence suggests Flame may have been infiltrating computer systems for five years.