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12/21/2012
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Report: U.S., Israel Fingered In Latest Data-Annihilation Attack

But 'attribution obfuscation' impedes rooting out source of the attack

Remember that rudimentary data-wiping malware found on a few computers in Iran this month? Most security experts pegged it as a simple, unsophisticated copycat of more sophisticated data-destruction malware attacks.

But in the latest twist, Industrial Safety and Security Source reported this week that the malware was courtesy of a U.S.-Israel attack, citing unnamed CIA sources who also say the attacks preceded the August Shamoon attack that hit Saudi Aramco and Iran's oil ministry.

Security researchers are unconvinced, however, noting that malware attribution -- especially when it comes to espionage and sabotage -- is difficult. And Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser for Sophos who has studied the so-called Batchwiper/GrooveMonitor attack, says it's "highly unlikely" that a CIA official would confirm such an attack if it were true.

The real problem is "attribution obfuscation," says Roel Schouwenberg, senior researcher for global research and analysis at Kaspersky Lab. "Following Shamoon, I stated we'd likely start seeing a trend where supposed nation-state malware would become more simplistic. Only top teams can develop top malware, such as Stuxnet and Flame. So it's quite clear what type of entity is likely behind it. Simplistic attacks can come from anyone," he says.

With targeted attacks, it doesn't matter whether it's complex or simple, as long as it works, he says.

Still, he says Kaspersky doesn't know who or what type of entity is behind Batchwiper/GrooveMonitor. "The only thing the attacks have in common from what we can see is the geographic location. But as we don't have reports from the wild for this most recent piece of malware, we can't actually confirm that," he says.

Iran's CERT on Sunday first issued an alert about the relatively rudimentary malware, which was discovered to delete data off of various drives at specific times and dates. The malware is a "very simple" knockoff of other wiping malware with no relation to those previously discovered malware attacks, and "very few machines" were infected by it, according to the CERT.

Researchers from Symantec, Kaspersky Lab, AlienVault Labs, and SophosLabs all concurred that it's a simplistic yet lethal piece of malware that doesn't appear to be related to the nation-state-built Stuxnet and Wiper that hit Iran's nuclear facility, or the destructive Shamoon that wiped 30,000 workstations.

"[The malware] is really as basic as it gets. It couldn't really be dumbed down much more. It's easily the most simplistic piece of malware I've looked at all year, and well beyond that," Schouwenberg says. "In terms of 'unique' code, it's five to 10 lines. By itself nobody would have paid attention to this 10 years ago, let alone now."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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