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Flame sparks a cyber alert.

Muscat: The next time you walk into a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi access, think twice before accessing the service.

Why Because, Flame, a malware capable of performing cyber spying on almost any computer worldwide, could be closer to you than you think!

Though no case has been reported in Oman so far, the virus has been discovered on computers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, prompting security concerns for Oman-based energy and industrial plants.

The sophistication of Flame lies in its capabilities to collect basic information about the system and local network, record network connections, search and steal files based on name patterns, record audio (if a microphone is available in the system), make screenshots, grab textual windows' contents and scan for locally available Bluetooth and wireless access devices.

Earlier, it had created havoc on computers in Iran, in what some suggested a deliberate attack on the country's nuclear programme.

According to Kaspersky Lab, the anti-virus firm that discovered Flame, the virus has been detected on 11 computers in Saudi Arabia, two each in the UAE and Qatar, and one in Bahrain. "The malware is designed to act like a cyber-espionage kit," a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab said.

These numbers might be small but the cases are significant because around 1,000 computers worldwide are thought to have been infected with Flame. The maximum cases were reported from Iran where the virus has been identified on around 200 computers.

Flame can not only spy on common computer files such as Word documents, but also those typically used by industrial engineers.

"It just sniffs out sensitive information. It is a very small programme, probably less than 20 mega bytes in size which is also designed to have many missions. Where it originates from and where it goes, nobody knows," said Tariq Al Barwani, founder and president of Knowledge Oman, an Oman-based community and knowledge sharing platform.

"It will just rob your personal information and sensitive data without your knowledge. The average user, who uses Internet for surfing, or limits his use, may not have to worry about it but let us put it this way: anybody connected to the Internet and anybody concerned with protecting their data should be worried about it, including the ministries, banking, telecommunication, and oil and gas companies," he added.

"Since the virus could extract confidential data from companies, we have advised the IT department to take maximum precaution to protect data," a senior official at one of the oil and gas companies said.

Mohamad Al Bolbol, general manager, Gulf Business Machines Oman Co. LLC, said they are selling more IT security solutions in Oman ever since the virus was discovered.

Kaspersky Lab has recently tied up with Overseas Business Machines (OBM), an IT integrated solutions company based in Muscat, as an enterprise partner in Oman.

Bolbol said no cases of Flame virus had been detected in Oman so far. "However, we are asking our customers to be on the alert," he noted.

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Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2012

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7OMAN
Date:Jun 5, 2012
Words:532
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