Kaspersky's most recent find was Red October. "Red October was extremely targeted," Raiu said. Raiu said that the software targeted government diplomatic institutions, which is not the normal target for profit minded malware writers. It also specifically targeted governments, energy companies, military contractors and aerospace companies.
Red October is also more sophisticated than the average profit-driven malware. It is a modular system. It "looks at what you have on your computer and depending on what you have, and what you do with your computer, [it] will send you dedicated modules for different purposes," Raiu said. One module, for instance, steals data from mobile phones. Another module can retrieve deleted data from USB memory sticks.
The rise of nation state malware is bad news for enterprises in a number of ways, Raiu said.
Cyberwarfare "has a lot of hidden dangers," Raiu said. Weaponized exploits developed by governments can be reused by cyber criminals for profit. Another danger is unintended proliferation. "Cyberweapons, which have the ability to multiply by themselves, can simply get out of control," Raiu said.
In either case, organizations and individuals can suffer from damage from this software, either intentionally or accidentally.
For instance, in January 2010, Google -- rather than a U.S. government agency -- alerted the world about the Aurora malware attack that took place against Google and other large IT companies, charging that the Chinese government was behind the attacks.
Aurora brought about "the first general acceptance of the fact that nation-states were actively developing cyberweapons and fighting against each other," Raiu said. "And the targets weren't necessarily other nation-states, but rather companies from the states."
Even when companies are not the targets, they can still suffer collateral damage, Raiu warned.
For instance, U.S. oil company Chevron reported that its systems were hampered by the Stuxnet virus. It's widely believed in the security community that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies created Stuxnet to spy on and disrupt Iran's nuclear operations, though official sources have never confirmed the allegations.
Duqu, widely considered the successor to Stuxnet, has also been inflicting damage on bystanders. This malware is currently spreading across PCs at an alarming rate. In a single day last month, Kaspersky saw a jump of 23 percent in the number of new copies of Duqu that infected PCs Kaspersky monitored, from 31,159 to 38,375.
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