The Real Possible Cost of Flame

Flame garnered interest in the intelligence and IT security communities not because of what it does, but how it does it. In particular it requires a sophisticated algorithm that leads experts to suggest Flame is a nation-sponsored cyber attack.

Microsoft, for its part, has issued a fix for Flame, but are loudly pointing out that Flame itself isn’t a problem, but an insecure internet is THE problem. That may be true at the moment, but will securing the internet (Internet 2.0 as one Microsoft Blogger calls it) actually make anyone safe from nation-sponsored cyber terrorism?

On the surface that might be a silly question. Most people aren’t in fear of cyber-terrorism, state sponsored or not. Stolen identities, loss of information, or use of their computers might be a concern, but they wouldn’t consider themselves targets for attacks. And most people would be right.

The Flame virus focused on the Middle-East, but no specific industry. It’s mining data from all infected computers. But a couple of years ago Stuxnet attacked Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities. Being able to target certain areas or industries is obviously a benefit when the viruses are a launched by governments waging a cyber war.

But in war, cyber or not, there is always collateral damage. What if the next virus attacks hospital infrastructure, airline security, traffic control, or subway switches? Even if it wasn’t originally intended to attack those systems, viruses tend to spread, often well beyond what their creators may have intended. According to the Christian Science Monitor the Flame virus is still spreading beyond Iran to Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Israel.

While a secure internet could curb casual hacking, could it do anything at all against sophisticated government minds working together to find workarounds? What risks would they be willing to take to get the information they need?

One thing's for sure. We’ll probably be seeing a lot more cyber attacks in the future.