NPR : News

'Flame' Malware Said To Be Targeting Iran: Huge Deal Or Huge Hype?

Word from the antivirus experts at Kaspersky Lab that "we've found what might be the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed," and that this Flame spyware is targeting Iran and some places in the Middle East, is getting lots of attention this morning:

-- "Massive Cyber-Attack Discovered, Researchers Say." (BBC News)

-- "Cyberwar Fears After Bug Targets Tehran." (Financial Times)

-- "Iran Facing 'Stuxnet On Steroids' Attack." (Forbes)

Before buying into the dramatic headlines, though, check these related stories:

-- Wired's Threat Level blog, points out that unlike Stuxnet (which did actual damage to Iran's nuclear program), Flame appears to be "an espionage toolkit that has been infecting targeted systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Israeli Occupied Territories and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years." In other words, it's more akin to a wiretap than a bug designed to do damage.

-- PCWorld runs through the reasons why the fuss over Flame may be more media hype than reality. And it writes that:

"A Webroot spokesperson says the security vendor takes issue with the hyperbolic claims about 'Flame', and claims the underlying threat has been known since 2007. 'In terms of sophistication we believe it is nowhere near Zeus, Spyeye or TDL4 for example. Essentially Flame at its heart is an over-engineered threat that doesn't have a lot of new elements to it--essentially a 2007 era technology.' "

PCWorld adds, though, that "there is one element of Flame that Webroot believes may be unique. ... Many antimalware tools use some form of reputation analysis to help determine if a given program is malware or not. Essentially, if the executable has been seen before, and hasn't done any previous harm it gets a bit of a 'free pass' — it has proven itself and earned some level of trust. Webroot feels that the amount of time that has passed between the initial development of the underlying Flame code and its active use as a tool for cyber espionage or cyber warfare may have been an intentional effort to game the reputation system and sneak in under the radar."

NPR's Tom Gjelten is working on the Flame news, and may have more to report later today on All Things Considered. We'll update as the story develops.

Update at 3:45 p.m. ET. In the report he's preparing for All Things Considered, Tom says that:

"The Kaspersky lab is comparing the Flame virus to Stuxnet, the computer worm used to physically disable centrifuges key to Iran's nuclear program. Stuxnet was clearly a weapon. But James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Flame should be put instead alongside the many other software programs designed by governments to help them steal commercial and security secrets from their adversaries."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Kate Mulgrew: "Born With Teeth" (Rebroadcast)

Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.


Sweet Name Of Kids' Clinic Gives Some People Heartburn

The Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic gets its name from a student-run charity race in Raleigh, N.C., that has already raised $1 million for kids. Still, some find the name unhealthy.

Americans Don't Disagree On Politics As Much As You Might Think

Everyone knows that distrust of Washington is at near-record levels and that Congress has grown more polarized. But what's going on with American voters is more complicated than you may realize.

Someday A Helicopter Drone May Fly Over Mars And Help A Rover

NASA is building a 2-pound helicopter drone that would help guide the vehicle on the Red Planet's surface. That way, the rover wouldn't need to wander as much to find its way around.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.