I am anything but a computer guru. Just the opposite. I know only what is necessary to do everyday computer chores. If anything terribly complicated comes up, I cry for help. That’s why this post is, at least in part, out of my comfort zone because it deals with the spy malware known as Flame.
I have to admit that I never heard of Flame until about three days ago when I was watching National Public Television’s Newshour and Jeffrey Brown, one of the regulars on the show, had a conversation with two experts on computer technology and national security matters.
Flame is powerful malware used for espionage. It is capable of taking computer screen-shots, logging keystrokes, and even listening in on Skype. Iran reported that several of the country’s important computers, especially those related to its oil industry, had been affected, but Flame was discovered in several other Middle Eastern countries as well.
When I heard Skype mentioned as one of the vehicles of intelligence gathering via Flame, I made a crack about a Skype conversation I just had with my cousin. “They are not targeting Hungary, for Pete’s sake,” my friend said. I answered that I was only joking.
At this point, one of the guests on the show from the Institute for Law, Science and Global Security at Georgetown University began to list the countries affected: Iran, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Egypt, and Hungary. Well, at this point, we stopped laughing.
From the rest of the conversation it became clear that although computer analysts know how many computers were affected by Flame they don’t know the identity of the targets. They might be government agencies or private companies. The spying itself may come from governments or large corporations. Kaspersky Lab, which specializes in computer virus prevention, identified 189 attacks in Iran, 98 in the West Bank, 32 in Sudan, 30 in Syria and a few in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Egypt. I found no details on Hungary but from a map attached to an article on Flame in the Hungarian edition of Computer World the Hungarian infections, judging from the color assigned to the country, must be sizable.
Where do the attacks come from? According to Fox News, “one of the leading candidates is Israel.” Apparently Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon hinted to a local radio station the other day that his country was responsible for Flame. But if that is the case, why would Israel be interested in Hungarian computers when most of the attacks are directed toward Tehran and the Middle East?
I can think of a couple of reasons. One is the alleged connection between Iran and Jobbik, the Hungarian neo-Nazi party. Jobbik because of its anti-Semitism is a sworn enemy of Israel; the party supports the Palestinian cause. Jobbik also has ties to countries that are high on international terrorist watch lists. Gábor Vona, for example, visited Yemen already in 2003, shortly after he organized Jobbik. The party has close relations with the Iranian government. Just before the 2010 elections Vona demanded Iranian observers. He promised that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Jobbik’s paramilitary Hungarian Guard together would watch over the purity of the Hungarian elections. What a lovely combination!
Suspicion of Iranian money in support of Jobbik lingers on. Jobbik ran a very expensive election campaign, allegedly from private donations. Naturally, no one believes this. Even prior to the appearance of Jobbik on the Hungarian political scene the Hungarian extreme right received money from Sadam Hussein’s Iraq. György Lázár, who wrote about the Hungarian right’s Middle Eastern connections in Élet és Irodalom a few years back, is convinced that Muslim extremists’ connections to the Hungarian right has had a long history and that the relationship is still flourishing.
But perhaps there might be another reason. I suspect that Israel is even suspicious of the Orbán government’s real intentions with respect to the Arab world. Viktor Orbán during his first term as prime minister made several trips to various Arab countries and promised much closer relations between Hungary and the Arab nations. I wrote about this more than a year ago and predicted that this trend was going to continue during the second Orbán government. As indeed it has.
Moreover, although Israel is not saying much, I am sure that Israeli politicians are watching with apprehension the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, which the Orbán government is not exactly fighting with full vigor. The rehabilitation of anti-Semitic writers whose activities between the two world wars inflamed public opinion against the country’s Jewish population cannot be to Israel’s liking either.
These were my thoughts when I heard Hungary being mentioned along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank, and Sudan. An odd-man out. Or is it?