To Spy On Offline Computers, Flame Malware Was Designed To Turn Humans Into “Data Mules”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
By Paul Martin

Andy Greenberg

The program known as Flame has fascinated the cybersecurity industry with its sophistication and versatility as a Swiss-Army knife of cyberspying. Now researchers have discovered another unexpected tool in its data-stealing arsenal: You.

Malware analysts at the security firm Bitdefender say they’ve found a unique capability within Flame’s code that would potentially allow it to steal data even from computers that aren’t connected to the Internet or to other networked machines. Instead of simply uploading stolen data to a remote server as traditional spyware does, Flame can also move the target information–along with a copy of itself–onto a USB memory stick plugged into an infected machine, wait for an unwitting user to plug that storage device into an Internet-connected PC, infect the networked machine, copy the target data from the USB drive to the networked computer and finally siphon it to a faraway server.

Spreading itself over an infected USB device is hardly a new trick for malware. But Bitdefender’s researchers say they’ve never before seen a cyberespionage program that can also move its stolen digital booty onto the USB stick of an oblivious user and patiently wait for the opportunity to upload it to the malware’s controllers.

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