After his lab discovered Flame, “the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed,” Eugene Kaspersky believes that the evolving threat of “cyber terrorism” could spell the end of life on Earth as we know it.
Doomsday scenarios are a common occurrence in 2012, but coming from a steely-eyed realist like Eugene Kaspersky, his calls for a global effort to halt emerging cyber threats should raise alarm bells.
A global Internet blackout and crippling attacks against key infrastructure are among two possible cyber-pandemics he outlined.
“It’s not cyber war, it’s cyber terrorism, and I’m afraid the game is just beginning. Very soon, many countries around the world will know it beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Kaspersky told reporters at a Tel Aviv University cyber security conference.
“I’m afraid it will be the end of the world as we know it,” he warned. “I’m scared, believe me.”
His stark warning came soon after researchers at Kaspersky Lab unearthed Flame, possibly the most complex cyber threat ever. While the espionage toolkit infected systems across the Middle East, Iran appears to have been its primary target.
Flame seems to be a continuation of Stuxnet, the revolutionary infrastructure-sabotaging computer worm that made mincemeat of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2009-2010.
As Flame is capable of recording audio via a microphone, taking screen shots, turning Bluetooth-enabled computers into beacons to download names and phone numbers from other Bluetooth enabled devices, Kaspersky is certain that a nation-station is behind the cyber espionage virus.
While Kaspersky says that the United States, Britain, India, Israel, China and Russia are among the countries capable of developing such software, which he estimates cost $100 million to develop, he did not limit the threat to these states.
“Even those countries that do not yet have the necessary expertise [to create a virus like Flame] can employ engineers or kidnap them, or turn to hackers for help.”
Like Stuxnet, Flame attacks Windows operating systems. Considering this reality, Kaspersky was emphatic: “Software that manages industrial systems or transportation or power grids or air traffic must be based on secure operating systems. Forget about Microsoft, Linux or Unix.”
Kaspersky believes the evolution from cyber war to cyber terrorism comes from the indiscriminate nature of cyber weapons. Very much like a modern-day Pandora’s Box, Flame and other forms of malware cannot be controlled upon release. Faced with a replicating threat that knows no national boundaries, cyber weapons can take down infrastructure around the world, hurting scores of innocent victims along the way.
Kaspersky believes that it necessary to view cyber weapons with the same seriousness as chemical, biological and even nuclear threats. Mutually assured destruction should exclude them from the arsenals of nation states.
The apocalyptic scenario he painted is fit for the silver screen. No surprise then, that it was a film that converted him to the idea that cyber terrorism was a clear and present danger.
By his own admission, Kaspersky watched the 2007 Film Live Free or Die Hard with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other shouting: “Why are you telling them [how to do this]?”
The film’s plot revolves around an NYPD detective played by Bruce Willis, fighting a gang of cyber terrorists who are targeting FBI computer systems.
“Before Die Hard 4.0, the word cyber terrorism was a taboo in my company. It could not be uttered aloud or discussed with the media. I tried to keep the Pandora’s Box closed. When the film hit the screens, I canceled that ban,” Kaspersky admitted.