Is the Stars Worm just a hoax?

Iran claims to have discovered a new malware threat targeting its critical infrastructure, but evidence is lacking

Iran claims to have discovered new malware it is calling the Stars worm attacking the nation's critical infrastructure. But, the lack of any sample of the new threat make many security experts skeptical.

A Mehr News Agency report quotes Iranian official Gholam-Reza Jalali explaining the ongoing efforts of Iranian security researchers to learn more about the malware. Jalali says there is nothing definitive yet from the investigation, adding, "(However), certain characteristics about the Stars worm have been identified, including that it is compatible with the (targeted) system and that the damage is very slight in the initial stage, and it is likely to be mistaken for executable files of the government."

However, security experts outside of Iran aren't quite sure what to make of the claims just yet. Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, says, ""Every AV vendor is clamoring to get their hands on this malware, yet so far Iran has not produced a sample of the code. Until a vendor or two can corroborate these claims this news falls into the propaganda category."

AppRiver's Fred Touchette explains why there is reason to be skeptical. "Up until this point there have been no details or proof of the attack. There has been no mention of the worm's targets or its possible intent, simply a claim that it has happened. In the Stuxnet case, security companies had samples to analyze and share, and were able to see first-hand the complexity of that worm."

Randy Abrams, director of technical education for ESET agrees. "Given the lack of opaqueness on the part of Iran, it seems unlikely that there has been anything new discovered and it is questionable as to whether or not anything at all was found, and if something was, whether or not it was truly malicious."

Sources from Symantec and McAfee say the same thing--no sample available, and no evidence currently to confirm or deny the claims of the Iranian government.

Storms does admit, though, that given the nature of the Stuxnet worm it would not be shocking to learn that a new malware threat was developed to target Iranian infrastructure or nuclear capabilities. On the other hand, it would also not come as a surprise to learn that Iran invented the Stars worm as a propaganda hoax.

For now, all we can really do is take the news with a grain of salt and healthy dose of skepticism. Touchette sums up, "Without any sort of sample or even an MD5 hash to compare to, unfortunately, we'll just have to wait and see."

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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