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'Flame' malware is a glimpse of cyber wars to come

The newly identified spy software is sophisticated and travels light.

Computer networks across the Middle East are engulfed in Flame. That's Flame, singular not plural. Flame is a newly identified bit of malicious software used in an enormous attack on government computers in Iran, Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

Roul Schouwenberg is with Kaspersky Labs, which discovered Flame. He says it's much more sophisticated and powerful than your everyday computer malware.

Roul Schouwenberg: It records your keystrokes, it takes screen shots. But, the more interesting thing is that it can make extensive use of the microphone on your computer. It can switch it on and eavesdrop on conversations, and something which we've never seen before is the usage of Bluetooth. Flame can see if there are phones connected via Bluetooth to your computer and subsequently basically copy the address book and send it to the attackers.

Moe: Where is it transmitting all this information to?

Schouwenberg: Flame is using a very sophisticated network of no less than 80 computers, so-called command and control severs to send this information to, and those are located all over the world.

Kaspersky Labs believes the complexity of Flame is such that it could only have been made by government scientists. They don't know which government.

Still, as sophisticated as it is, David Fidler says, "Flame is probably yesterday's cyber espionage tool." Fidler is with the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University. He says Flame's power, combined with fear of what else might be out there, could lead to panic by governments around the world.

David Fidler: You start to have a situation where you don't know whether your computers are being subject to an actual attack that could damage something or this is just an espionage tool, so you begin to take countermeasures and things. It's sort of like a downward spiral of a cyber-arms or cyber espionage race, and that's I think one of the worrying things about this because we don't have any policy or legal regimes which really effectively deal with espionage.

Then you may have a scenario where nations attack each other's computer networks instead of setting up better defenses on their own systems.

All the while, says Roul Schouwenberg, Flame keeps attacking. "With these kinds of operations, the attackers will not rest until they've basically broken into that network."

Good news? Your computer is probably safe from Flame for now. Unless you happen to be a systems administrator for a Middle Eastern government.

***

Time to check the androids, scope out the machines, saddle up for the Robot Roundup. The bots are doing some dirty work.

Robots are getting shot at. An Australian company has doubled production of terrorist robots. Pretty much mannequins hooked up to modified Segway scooters. Seems the Australian Army enjoys using them for target practice.

Robots are being sent into the damaged Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. One of them is. Her name is Rosemary and she looks like a lawn mower with feet. I think the real breakthrough here is that a nuclear-resistant robot has a name like Rosemary.

But it's not all bullets and radiation.

Robots are doing the work of three guitarists! Yeah, take a break Clapton, Santana, and, I don't know, Yngwie Malmsteen, a robot in Russia has been programmed to play all three parts of a composition so tricky it normally requires a group of musicians. Good news, it has all the soul and emotion you'd expect from a robot. 

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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