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Monthly Report: July 2012
Tammuz - Av 5772
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By Shira Sorko-Ram
It’s all cloak and dagger but no dagger needed. A good computer will do.
The latest weapon launched in the Middle East is a computer virus that turns every computer it infects into the ultimate spy. A virus, called Flame, has been unleashed on Iran and other nations in the Middle East. The virus can also vanish as if it never was, meaning that countless computers could have been infected, but will never know it happened.
Flame is your ultimate sleuth. It can turn a computer on and off, change its settings, record, compress and download peoples’ conversations nearby, sniff network traffic or Bluetooth connections. It takes screen pictures, logs instant messaging chats, gathers data files and intercepts the keyboard. Using Bluetooth, it assembles information about discoverable devices near the infected machine. It collects e-mails, documents, messages, discussions inside sensitive locations, and more.
Flame’s command-and-control (C&C) team can then attack other machines in the network: the virus creates backdoor user accounts by creating its own pre-defined password that is then used to copy itself to all kinds of machines.
The Russian security lab, Kaspersky, discovered the virus but admits “the initial point of entry of Flame is unknown.” In simple words, they don’t know how the virus gained access to closely guarded computers in the first place. The Russian company believes the virus has already been at work unnoticed for more than two years while others say it could have been in use for up to five years.
Wherever the virus has obtained access, the command-and-control center can continue monitoring the network for months and even years. But if the operators believe they have all the information they need from a location, the C&C center can delete the virus as if it never existed. It’s a complete attack toolkit designed for general cyber-espionage purposes, according to the Russian Kaspersky Lab.
And it is huge! Because of its various modules and “libraries,” it is a full 20 MB! Some experts wonder how anything that mammoth has gone undetected for so long. Others say that because it is so big, it escaped notice.
TARGET: MIDDLE EAST
Currently, there are some 300 known cases of successful infection by Flame, two-thirds in Iran, but also in Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian areas and Egypt. A few have been found in Israel, but that is considered by most as a red herring. The real number could be in the thousands while the intelligence gatherers continue their silent work.
The consensus of Internet security agencies is that this is not the work of hackers who wreck websites or even cybercriminals who steal credit cards and ID information and the like. Because of the tremendous complexity of the virus, not to speak of the geography of the attacks, few experts doubt that some nation state or states are behind this malware.
However, there is no information in the code or otherwise that can tie Flame to any specific nation state. Its authors remain unknown. At this point the Internet security experts believe there are some 80 different domains (but those can be easily modified) connected to the approximately 12 remote C&C servers around the world being used by Flame.
Given that the subject is covert cyberwar, one can expect confusion, half-truths and disinformation to be the rule rather than the exception, says msnbc. But if we review the Stuxnet virus that hit Iran two years ago and destroyed 1000 of their 5000 centrifuges for enriching uranium by causing them to spin wildly out of control, we can make a pretty good guess as to their origin.
The New York Times described Stuxnet as a joint Israeli-U.S. effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear ambitions. President George W. Bush initiated the cyber-espionage unit as a military asset and President Barack Obama continued and expanded its operations. The NYT explained that Stuxnet was so successful because Israel did tests in its own Dimona Nuclear Center in the Negev desert.
According to the NYT, Israel had spun centrifuges virtually identical to those at Iran’s Natanz facility, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.
“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” an American expert on nuclear intelligence told the newspaper. The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”
Unlike Stuxnet (and its close relative Duqu) Flame is not a destroying virus but an information-gathering tool.
The Russian company believes that Flame was made parallel to Stuxnet simply a strategy of not putting all the eggs in one basket. The designers knew that Stuxnet would one day be discovered and so an intel-gathering virus based on a completely different philosophy was created. The Kaspersky Lab experts agree that Flame has probably infected thousands of victims.
Disinformation seems to be the rule here. On the one hand, Roger Cressy, formerly a top aid to George W. Bush in security concurs with the majority of experts: “Whoever has developed this is engaged in very sophisticated intelligence gathering on computer networks throughout the [Middle East] region. Clearly, Iran is a top priority for this program,” he said.
Symantec and many other security organizations have said the sheer size of Flame is making a thorough analysis of the virus a slog. The Russians say it has so many elements and modules, it could take them a year to thoroughly analyze it. Furthermore there are different versions out in the wild as the operators made improvements and changes to the virus during the last two to five years.
Perhaps for political reasons, other experts play the whole thing down. James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. said the new virus was merely a collection of existing cyber-espionage tools.
“Somebody took a lot of existing techniques, and glued them all together, which are kind of fun. But none of this is what you call cutting edge stuff,” said Lewis.
Officially, the U.S. has said they have had nothing to do with Flame, and Israel doesn’t say one way or the other. But as far as the Israeli public is concerned, the overwhelming belief is that the U.S. and Israel together created the Flame.
WHY IS THE UN INTERESTED IN FLAME?
Whether or not Lewis is correct in his analysis of Flame’s sophistication, he does point out another interesting aspect to the whole Flame phenomenon. He notes that it was the UN which raised the alarm about the super virus. Marco Obiso, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union, or I.T.U., says his organization asked Eugene Kaspersky, a Russian security consultant to have his lab study the malware.
And indeed, Kaspersky Security Network in Russia discovered the Flame. But the interesting fact is that the I.T.U. has never before issued a cyber security alert like this. As a UN agency, the I.T.U. has often reflected the interests of Russia and China, its two most influential members. In fact the I.T.U. has never called attention to the many cyber threats originating from those two countries Russia and China.
The virus that did get the I.T.U.’s attention, was none other than Flame, which has apparently targeted Iran as Stuxnet did. Suspicion immediately fell on the U.S. and Israel as the authors.Therefore, some cyber researchers concluded that Kaspersky may have given an overblown analysis of its menace meant to bring blame on the U.S. and Israel. And, in fact, a congressional hearing has just focused on the I.T.U. and its ties to the Russian and Chinese governments.
Fearing the UN has an agenda, a senior State Department official and a member of the Federal Communications Commission both expressed alarm over those associations. And sure enough, the I.T.U. with Russia the leading advocate, is now calling for a “peace treaty” for cyber space under which such cyber espionage would be outlawed.Whatever the truth, the complete story will stay undercover.
One of the important side effects of viruses is that they not only affect the targeted program, they also make Iranian officials “paranoid.” Additionally, countering the attacks diverts valuable assets and resources from the core mission, U.S. officials explained.
Example: On May 27, Iran’s oil ministry, national oil company and a number of other companies affiliated with the ministry were hit by a cyber attack again, according to semi-official news agency Mehr. As a result, the country had to disconnect its oil ministry and its main crude export terminal, Kharg, from the Internet a major disruption.
While the Flame virus is obviously designed to gather intelligence on the Iranian program, it also causes the Iranians to wonder about security and raises questions about whether the enemy knows the intricacies of Iranian decision making, not just on the nuclear program but on a host of other issues important to the U.S. and the West.
Says journalist Yaacov Katz, “By detecting the infection of its computers, Iran understands that it is vulnerable and will continue to be as long as it defies the international community with its nuclear program.”
Nuclear ambiguity has played a critical role in Israeli national defense strategy for over 50 years.
Although Israel is widely believed to have built more than 200 atomic warheads at its Dimona reactor, it neither admits nor denies having nuclear weapons. Instead, Israeli leaders wink, smile, give a pat on the back and say something about how Israel knows how to protect itself whenever they are asked about these purported capabilities.
Now we are entering into a new era of the country’s defense doctrine called “cyber ambiguity.” The day after Flame was discovered, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a speech that when it comes to cyberspace, the size of a country is insignificant but that there is great significance to a country’s “scientific strength, and with that Israel is blessed.”
Katz remarked, “While no Israeli official came out and took responsibility for the virus attack, the ambiguity was too loud to ignore.”
Israel’s top agencies for such strategy are Military Intelligence’s Unit 8200, the equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, and the Mossad which also has strong technological capabilities.
Nevertheless, cyber warfare like sanctions and diplomacy can only slow down Iran’s nuclear program, not stop it. Iran’s centrifuges have been plagued by breakdowns since a rapid expansion of enrichment in 2007 and 2008. Yet Israel’s experts now believe that Stuxnet delayed the creation of a bomb by only about 18 months.
So even though Iran’s bomb-making abilities have been severely impaired, its government is still hell-bent to create a nuclear weapon. How long, then, does the world have until it’s too late? How long does Israel have until her enemy-destroyer has the capacity to do so? Hopefully the spymasters know. What is certain is that God knows. Though Israel may go through great suffering and hardship, the Guardian of Israel will save her.
Can Israel Trust Obama?
by Shira Sorko-Ram
The $64 trillion question, the life and death question, is whether Israel can trust President Obama. He and other officials have said over and over that Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear and that the U.S. policy is to prevent them from achieving nuclear weapons. Containment, Obama said earlier this year, was not an option prevention is the goal.
But the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has never been good. And Israel instinctively fears there is considerable distance between Obama’s declarations and his actions.
If the U.S. is really serious about Iran, Netanyahu insists, this is what the President must demand.
Iran would undoubtedly attempt every subterfuge possible. Her mullahs might temporarily stop their enrichment at 20 percent until things cooled down or the U.S. became preoccupied with another crisis. That is the reason, says Netanyahu, for the ultimatums.
The chances of the U.S. and the world forcing Iran to submit to such stipulations are nil. So would the United States actually use the military option to prevent a nuclear Iran as Washington has pledged? There is no assurance in Israel.
ISRAEL PREPARES FOR THE NEXT TWO WARS
Therefore Israel continues to prepare for a possible attack on Iran. It would appear that Netanyahu has not made up his mind yet when to attack. Yaacov Katz conjectures that some of Israel’s saber rattling is bluff strategy aimed at getting the world to do the work needed on its behalf.
However, it seems that Israel is increasingly determined to make sure that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, no matter what the cost. Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained at a security conference in Tel Aviv recently that Israel will wait until the last possible moment before deciding to take such action. The question, Katz asks, is how long do we have?
While the government’s focus right now is on the question of what to do and when to do it, in the IDF the focus is on the day after such a strike and on the war that it expects will ensue.
Israel will have to brace for the fallout that is expected to include missile attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and possibly Syria as well. Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan recently stated at a fascinating lecture at Bar-Ilan University, that no matter how many rockets Hezbollah currently has in its arsenal 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000, they are not of the quantity or quality to defeat the State of Israel.
He then went on to say that Israel’s strategy to combat Hezbollah, which of course is Iran’s proxy on Israel’s northern border, would be both ground troops and heavy air support.
Golan explained that the army’s goal will be to destroy enough of Hezbollah’s weapons to postpone for as long as possible the next war after this coming war!!
What part do we as believers play on this world stage? First of all, the Lord told us when we see wars and hear of rumors of war and I would add, especially concerning Israel we are not to fall into despair, but to lift up our heads, as our redemption draws nigh.
But at the same time, we cannot ignore that these events are most certainly signs that the time is growing short. We as the light of the world, are commissioned to keep our lamps bright from the filth of the world, and to focus on bringing the Gospel to a lost world and the lost sheep of Israel.
Maoz UK From the Inside
by Helen Delap
We first met Ari and Shira in 1992 at a Yeshua Conference in the UK where they spoke about their work in Israel with Maoz Ministries. At that same time in our lives, we were receiving revelation about God’s purposes for Israel through the Bible, friends and others.
Over the next two years we developed a greater understanding about God’s ongoing purposes for Israel, and a deeper respect for the work of Maoz Israel Ministries. By 1995, wanting to do something practical, we volunteered to set up a Maoz office in the UK to promote the work. We applied to the government’s Charity Commission for Charity Status, but were told that Jews could not remain Jews if they believed in Jesus and that Messianic Judaism must be “a cult.” It took us two years to persuade the Commissioners that this was “kosher.”
At the time I was working as a Biblically-based Counsellor and Dan, who as a retired Royal Air Force officer, took on a second career as an Osteopath. We did not expect much of a response and were surprised and delighted when in our first year we were able to send £20,000 to Israel from UK donors.
We ran the office on a shoestring from our cellar, and later from one of our bedrooms. Our business receptionist doubled as our Maoz administrator. Maoz’ International administrator Christy Wilkerson visited us and was appalled at our lack of technology and oversaw the introduction of a computer programme to handle the admin. She coined the phrase “immigrants” rather than “natives” to describe our skill levels!
Since then the UK ministry has expanded year after year and we now have a staff of four part-timers. We outgrew our spare bedroom years ago and have moved several times into bigger offices. God has sent us wonderful people to work with us. Diane worked as our administrator for fifteen years and when she reluctantly retired, we wondered how on earth we could replace her. God answered our prayers and sent us Petra Montaque, who is working outside her home for the first time since raising a large family. She slotted into the job perfectly and is a wonderful member of the team.
We are now “retired” from our business professions but are working twice as hard as ever! With my Jewish heritage, I happily took on the challenge of doing development work for Maoz. We recently prayed for a younger person to help me and understudy Dan’s work as Director. Again God answered the prayer swiftly and sent us Brian Greenaway, perfectly qualified to do both jobs and fit into the team. We all share a passion and love for Israel and the Jewish people, and work in perfect unity.
We have a regular prayer time in our office each Thursday morning when we bring to the Lord the needs of our dear partners. We are encouraged by the heartwarming messages which we regularly receive and also wonderful answers to prayer. We love our UK partners! With so many Israel supporters in the UK feeling isolated and rejected in their own churches and communities because of replacement theology, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, we are in the privileged position of feeling the power of their united support and passing this on to Maoz Ministries in Israel. To all those in that position we commend you on your faithfulness, commitment and generosity.
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