Israel dismisses cyber hacking accusation

Kaspersky Lab monitors global spam from its offices in Moscow. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Kaspersky Lab monitors global spam from its offices in Moscow. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Jerusalem - An Israeli deputy minister dismissed as baseless on Thursday reports Israel may have had a connection to a computer virus that a security company said was used to hack into venues linked to international talks on Iran's nuclear programme.

Israeli government officials had declined to comment, but on Thursday Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely denied Israel was involved. "The international reports of Israeli involvement in the matter are baseless," she told Army Radio.

Russia-based Kaspersky Lab said on Wednesday it found the spyware in three European hotels that hosted negotiations involving Iran and six world powers and also on the company's own computers.

Both Kaspersky and US security company Symantec said the virus shared some programming with previously discovered espionage software called Duqu, which security experts believe to have been developed by Israelis.

"Most notably, some of the new 2014-2015 infections are linked to the P5+1 events and venues related to the negotiations with Iran about a nuclear deal," the companies said in a statement.

"P5+1" refers to the six world powers negotiating with Iran on curbs to its disputed nuclear programme - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The talks have been held in Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux, Munich and Vienna.

Overlap

In February, the US accused Israel of using selective leaks from the talks to distort the US position.

Kaspersky said Duqu 2.0 had evolved from the earlier Duqu, which had been deployed against unidentified targets for years before it was discovered in 2011.

Symantec and Kaspersky analysts have said there was overlap between Duqu and Stuxnet, a U.S.-Israeli project that sabotaged Iran's nuclear programme in 2009-10 by destroying a thousand or more centrifuges that were enriching uranium.

Kaspersky said Duqu 2.0 used three previously unknown flaws in Microsoft software to infect machines and spread, including a problem with Software Installer files, which are commonly used by technical administrators to install and update software on Windows computers within an organisation. The attack left almost no traces.

Microsoft said it fixed the last of those flaws on Tuesday. Moscow-based Kaspersky, a supplier of anti-virus software and other security tools, said it discovered the advanced malware earlier in the spring as a result of attacks it had seen on a number of organisations, including itself.

Israel said that a larger concern was the nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

"What is much more important is that we prevent a bad agreement where at the end of the day we find ourselves with an Iranian nuclear umbrella," Hotovely said.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, has denounced the diplomatic opening to Iran, saying it doubts any agreement arising from the talks will sufficiently restrain the atomic programme of its arch-enemy.

The West suspects Iran wants to develop a nuclear weapons capability from its enrichment of uranium. Iran says it is seeking nuclear energy for electricity and medical isotopes.

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