Share this article

print logo

Warning out for new cybervirus

The Obama administration is warning American businesses about a new unusually potent computer virus that infected Iran's oil industry even as suspicions persist that the United States is responsible for its creation.

The government's dual roles of alerting U.S. companies about these threats and producing the powerful software weapons underscore the risks of an unintended, online boomerang, experts say. The concern with cyberweapons that spread across the Internet is they may circle back accidentally to infect computers they were not supposed to target.

The Homeland Security Department's warning about the "Flame" virus assured U.S. companies that no infections had been discovered so far inside the U.S. It described Flame as an espionage tool that was sophisticated in design.

The department said the origin is a mystery.

But suspicions about the U.S. government's role in the use of cyberweapons were heightened by a report in Friday's New York Times that said Obama secretly had ordered the use of an earlier sophisticated cyberweapon, known as Stuxnet, to attack the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities.

Private security researchers long have suspected that the U.S. and Israeli governments were responsible for Stuxnet.

But the newspaper's detailed description of conversations in the Oval Office among Obama, the vice president and the CIA director about the U.S. government's responsibility for Stuxnet is the most direct evidence so far of the U.S. role.

The White House said Friday it would not discuss whether the U.S. was responsible for the Stuxnet attacks on Iran, citing national security.

Russian digital security provider Kaspersky Lab, which first identified the virus earlier this year, said Flame's complexity and functionality "exceed those of all other cybermenaces known to date."

Other experts said it wasn't as fearsome.

Much of the code used to build the virus is old and available on the Internet, said Becky Bace of the University of South Alabama. Flame could have been developed by a small team of smart people who are motivated and have financial backing, she said.