Move over James Bond – here comes Flame!

Innovation is the name of the game and applies not only to businesses but espionage as well. Gone are the days when 007 was sent to sort out Blofeld. Bond is about to be made redundant and most of his work will be done online. Devote 2 minutes to watching  a cyber security expert explain the workings of espionage program Flame that is targeting governments and businesses in the Middle East:

Iran and Israel/Palestine have been the main targets which have made experts all over the world believe that America and/or Israel is behind it.

The New York Times have looked into Struxnet and Olympic Games (the code name given to it already by the Bush White House) for 18 months. According to their article, Struxnet suddenly started spreading into computers outside the Iranian nuclear plant and the Americans believed the Israelis had done something to enable that. Maybe that was the beginning of Flame? If so, it wouldn't surprise me if the hackers that work for Israel's Unit 8200, that I wrote about in  Cyber Warfare – Hackers to the rescue, were behind it. Maybe it's time to make "hacker" a profession and enable more of them to use their skills in positive ways to protect governments and businesses against this kind of attacks, instead of in destructive ways?

Imagine a virus that can delay exports

Flame not only steals information but is also said to have disrupted oil exports by shutting down Iranian oil terminals. But then again,  Struxnet destroyed some of Iran's nuclear centrifuges. 

What nation state is behind it?

security official in China was arrested this year for spying for the US. Maybe he handed over the information needed to get Flame into Chinese networks and places of interest?

Can't help wondering if some other nation could be behind Flame? The Chinese government is actually known for their cyber activities and so is Russia and Iran. But according to the above mentioned article in The New York Times, the era of viruses such as Flame started when George W. Bush was president. Having falsely accused Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction he had no credibility for, again, accusing a country of nuclear ambitions. And the Iranians knew it. So when Bush was presented with the opinion of cyber warfare he found the sophisticated cyber weapon too good to resist. Obama followed suit and in fact speeded up cyber attacks against the Iranians. 

Just read an article in in Foreign Policy Magazine asking if there are US special ops inside North Korea. Maybe to find the information needed to get Flame into places of interest in Pyongyang? If so, in the future Flame and its successors may take care of espionage in North Korea as well. The new cyber spy tool sounds to me not only to be up to the task but able to penetrate where ops cannot thread. 

The beginning of a new era

Seems to me that using viruses like Flame is the way of the future for espionage. Catch is, all nations will follow suit, if they haven't already. And that includes Iran and North Korea. In fact, how long will it take before Iran pays the US and Israel back for Struxnet?  It's essential for all countries in the world to boost their ability to withstand such attacks. And the same applies to businesses who may otherwise have their secrets stolen and their markets taken away. 

Do you believe viruses such as Flame is the way of the future? Should all countries and businesses increase their ability to withstand such attacks?Are the US and/or Israel behind Flame? Will the number of James Bonds in the world be gradually reduced? Catch is the Blofelds of this world neither are, not will be, in decline. Should hacking be made a profession in order to benefit from their skills? Is privacy gradually becoming a thing of the past? Will we all have to get used to a world where everything is seen and heard? If so, will the 007s or Blofelds be the winners? Or maybe the Bond Girls? If so, hopefully the good flames that end up with Bond in the end. The current Flame beats most honey traps, after all.

Video: ReutersTV -YouTube

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21 Responses to “Move over James Bond – here comes Flame!”

  1. Lubna Says:

    Scary isn't it? It is essential for governments to strengthen cyber security. But at the same time, governments should not get so alarmed that they put stringent curbs on use of the internet (perhaps this is another story altogether as it deals much more with freedom of speech than cyber security).
    I can so visualise books and movies emerging on cyber wars.
    My recent post If Truth were to be Told

  2. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Lubna, I suppose it is. However, it makes sense doesn't it? Why wouldn't they start using cyber space for espionage? Struxnet happened a couple of years ago. So by now someone should have figured out an even more intelligent version of it.

    Honestly think another aspect is that we have to curb ourselves online. Just write and do whatever you feel comfortable with governments world-wide knowing about you. It may also signal the end of online banking as it works at the moment.

  3. Susan Cooper Says:

    This is truly scary. In order to combate it. It is best to be on the offense. Other wise we will always be catching up, A very costly endeavor. Much more costly then offensively protecting ourselves.
    My recent post A Resident Ghost Story

  4. @jepaladino Says:

    Catarina — espionage is one of the oldest professions in the world it's just that the tools have changed. There are already many, reputable hackers who work full time in government and universities decoding the many malicious viruses and malware that speed around the internet every day. My feeling is that a cyberwar is preferable to to putting boots on the ground and young women and men in harm's way. The only problem is the bad guys are just as good as the good guys. In the U.S., the President has been criticized for his unilateral decisions to wage war on Iranian nuclear facilities without the consent of the Congress. But this isn't something you announce to the world so the politicians can leak secret information to the press in the now constant battle between Republicans and Democrats.
    My recent post Blogging is More Important Than Ever for Your Brand

  5. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Susan, now there will be a race in cyber war techniques. Hopefully governments and businesses protect themselves as much as they can. Catch is I'm not sure there is any protection. As sophisticated as Flame is today, it will be out of date tomorrow when a new and better code will be found.

  6. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Jeannette.

  7. Geek Girl Says:

    I have been aware of this for some time now. What’s scary to me is not that this stuff exists, it’s that our government has taken few steps to actually protect us against it. They are always chasing after what has already happened and not what will likely happen in the future. There is always the possibility that I am wrong and they are working on how to protect us from ‘skynet’. The track record usually proves otherwise.

  8. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Cheryl. However I doubt they can protect us against code they don't know. If the US & Israel is behind Flame they can protect their countries from that code. What if say, the Iranians have a completely different one?

  9. GuyW Says:

    Hacking is already a profession – many businesses and governments use "White Hats" to test the security of their systems and ensure they are reasonably safe from intrusion. Of course, hacking evolves and so today's 'safe site' is hackable tomorrow.

    As for Stuxnet, and others – this is much safer for people than the older forms of espionage, but can have wider effects. Much has already been written about the potential catastrophe if/when somebody hacks into the US power grid and shuts it down. Imagine the impact of somebody shutting down the NYSE or NASDAQ. The question is, can this be prevented?

    I see the incidence of hackers impacting critical government, and other, sites growing in the years ahead. Bond will be less suave and more geeky…

  10. catarinaalexon Says:

    True Guy. You have ethical hackers as well as some hackers hat have been given a choice between going to jail and working for their government.

    However, there are an abundance of hackers out there without a job that are up to no good. In particular they seem to enjoy wreaking havoc. Considering that governments and businesses all over the world need to start protecting themselves against cyber war & cyber crime an easy solution would be to employ these hackers i.e. make hacking a profession.

    If a company would like to hire a hacker what title do they use when they place their ad?

    Don’t forget that virueses such as Flame will be abused. Imagine if for some reason a government somewhere got the idea you were a danger to them and used Frame in your computers.

  11. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you for conveying your opinion, Pranay.

  12. Bethany Lee Says:

    Whoa! Lots of questions! I don't think I have the answer to them all, but I certainly believe this is a trend that will not only continue, but grow exponentially. And yes, because of this, if a country wishes to safeguard themselves, they should totally protect themselves against these kinds of attacks. Catarina, I love the use of the James Bond scenario in this one. But, I don't think we are done with the James Bond players yet. :-) In my opinion, there will always be the need (or perceived need at least) of the human element in extracting information.

  13. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Bethany, viruses such as Flame will grow expnentially. Am sure it has already started. Yes, there will be humans involved, but less than now since the Flames of the world are better equipped to do a lot of things. Not sure I even want to think about what they will be able to do in the future.

    As for James Bond, my old friend Sean Connery is far too old to play Bond so those movies are not what they used to be:-)

  14. Dennis Salvatier Says:

    Nothing is secret anymore. It seems that life is truly imitating art and it's just a matter of time before this is all the norm. It has a frightening element to it, but I suppose anything where privacy and government information is involved can be scary.
    My recent post What Mad Men Taught Me About The Design Biz

  15. catarinaalexon Says:

    True Dennis. Nothing is secret anymore. We just have to get used to it becasue it will get worse. Just imagine how this type of viruses will be abused.

  16. Susan Oakes Says:

    This has been making news in Australia lately and I wonder if they got some inspiration from movies. Seriously you have to wonder if governments are vulnerable what people can do to protect themselves especially as some freely give away so much information. I also wonder the role of Russia in all this rather than USA and Israel.
    My recent post Make It Count To Enjoy Marketing Success

  17. Josh Says:

    This is very scary for our government and especially on cyber world. I hope that they will have a solution for this.
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  18. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Susan. What can we do to protect ourselves? Am sure that not only the US and Israel have this kind of viruses. Russia, China, Iran and other governments have as well. We just have to hope the Flames of this world are not abused. Probably in vain.

  19. catarinaalexon Says:

    Question is will they? Maybe it's time we get used that we live in "1984" i.e. there is no privacy.

  20. catarinaalexon Says:

    MIka do you really believe online espionage like the virus Flame is a good idea? Have you thought about how such programs will be abused? In the future you can forget about privacy. Everything you do online will be "public".

  21. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you like it, Steve. As I wrote to Guy, there are good hackers. But regardless of that it should become a profession, and a highly paid one at that . That way we can get hackers that are up to no good to opt for a highly paid position as a hacker instead. That should have a positive impact on society.

    By the way, if a company would like to advertise for a hacker what do they call the position?

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