Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

New State-Sponsored Virus Suspected ; Security Company Says Spying Malware Seems to Aim at Lebanese Banks

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

New State-Sponsored Virus Suspected ; Security Company Says Spying Malware Seems to Aim at Lebanese Banks

Article excerpt

A security company says it has discovered what it believes is the fourth state-sponsored computer virus to surface in the Middle East in the past three years, apparently aimed at computers in Lebanon.

A security company says it has discovered what it believes is the fourth state-sponsored computer virus to surface in the Middle East in the past three years, apparently aimed at computers in Lebanon.

The company, Kaspersky Lab, said Thursday that the virus appeared to have been written by the same programmers who created Flame, the data-mining computer virus that was found to be spying on computers in Iran last May, and that it may be linked to Stuxnet, the virus that disrupted uranium enrichment work in Iran in 2010.

The latest virus, nicknamed Gauss after a name found in its code, has been detected on 2,500 computers, most in Lebanon, the company said. Its purpose appeared to be to acquire log-ins for e-mail and instant messaging accounts, social networks, and notably, accounts at certain banks -- a function more typically found in malicious programs used by profit-seeking cybercriminals.

The researchers said the target banks included several of Lebanon's largest -- the Bank of Beirut, Blom Bank, Byblos Bank and Credit Libanais -- along with Citibank and the online payment system PayPal.

"We have never seen any malware target such a specific range of banks," Costin Raiu, Kaspersky's director of global research and analysis, said in an interview. "Generally, cybercriminals target as many banks as possible to maximize financial profit, but this is a very focused cyberespionage campaign targeting certain users of online banking systems."

Lebanon experts said that a U.S. cyberespionage campaign directed at the Lebanese banking system would seem to be a plausible possibility, given Washington's concerns that the country's banks are being used as a financial conduit for the Syrian government and for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party.

"The United States has had a number of Lebanese banks under the microscope for a while," said Bilal Y. Saab, a Lebanon expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in California, who said the banks "operate much like Swiss banks" in terms of secrecy. …

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