Here comes miniFlame. On Monday, security firm Kaspersky Labs announced that it had discovered, and dubbed with that name, a small and "highly flexible" malicious spy program for grabbing data and controlling systems.
"Spy," in this case, doesn't mean eavesdropping on your transactions with your local bank, but actual country-to-country espionage, as miniFlame's big brother, Flame, reportedly did. Also known as SPE, miniFlame was originally identified by Kaspersky experts in July as a module within Flame.
Last month, Kaspersky conducted a deeper analysis of Flame, after the discovery of another apparently state-sponsored malware it called Gauss. Kaspersky found that the miniFlame module was, in fact, an interoperable tool that could serve either as independent malware, or as a plug-in for either Flame or Gauss. This analysis led to the conclusion by Kaspersky that there had been co-operation, at least, between the creators of Flame and Gauss.
Kaspersky's chief security expert, Alexander Gostev, said in a statement that miniFlame is "a high precision attack tool," and that it is probably used in a "second wave of a cyberattack." According to the security firm, miniFlame was most likely deployed for extremely targeted cyber espionage, was probably used inside machines already infected by Flame or Gauss, and has probably infected 10 to 20 machines.
The most likely scenario, Gostev said, is Flame or Gauss is used "to infect as many victims as possible to collect large quantities of information." After the data has been retrieved and reviewed, he surmised, miniFlame "is installed in order to conduct more in-depth surveillance and cyber-espionage.
Kaspersky also found that miniFlame is based on the same architectural platform as Flame, and that it operates as a backdoor for data theft and for access to infected systems. Six variations of miniFlame have been found so far, and its development is thought to have started as early as 2007 and continued through 2011.
'Most Sophisticated Cyber Weapon'
In early May, the existence of the Flame virus was first revealed by security experts, which they described as one of the most complex viruses ever found. It's not clear who created it, or for what purpose, but most experts believe it was targeted specifically at computers in Iran and possibly other Middle Eastern countries. The virus' creator has been attributed, without confirmation, to either the United States or Israel, or both.
Later in May, Microsoft announced that it was increasing security on its Windows Update software, which apparently had been used to distribute the Flame virus. The technology giant said that whoever built Flame had designed it to look like a legitimate download to the receiving computer or computers. Apparently, Flame intercepted requests to Microsoft Update by uninfected computers, and then delivered its virus to those computers.
Kaspersky Labs, which helped discover Flame, has written on its SecureList blog that Flame "is one of the most interesting and complex malicious programs we have ever seen."
In short, the Labs wrote, while the previous Stuxnet and Duqu were super-virus weapons that "raised the stakes," Flame is possibly "the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet released."