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MiniFlame malware: Assessing the threat to enterprises

Expert Nick Lewis analyzes miniFlame, the plug-in for the Flame malware, to determine how it operates and whether enterprises should be concerned.

Recently discovered malware, called miniFlame, can apparently operate independently or as a plug-in for the Flame malware and the Gauss malware. Could you explain how miniFlame operates? Is it strictly a cyberweapon that targets nation-states, or should enterprises be concerned too?

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The miniFlame malware, also known as SPE malware, is reported to be a module of both the Flame and Gauss malware, but could also potentially operate as standalone malware. Many pieces of malware come with modular functionality, meaning new attacks or functionality can be added as it is developed, much like legitimate software. Using modular software development practices allows an attacker or developer to expand the functionality of the malware without needing to develop an entirely new version of the software and deploy it to the compromised systems. Using modular development, only the new functions or plug-ins need to be installed, rather than reinstalling all of the software. For example, if an attacker wanted to target a new bank with previously developed malware, the functionality could be added as a plug-in rather than updating the core software. Another benefit is that only the new module would need to be tested, which again cuts down on the time needed to develop an attack.

In terms of how miniFlame works, it shares some of the same command-and-control infrastructure with Flame and Gauss. It is used as a back door to allow control by an external attacker. MiniFlame works by connecting to a client system that controls the server installed on the compromised system. In comparison with Flame and Gauss, miniFlame is much smaller in size and has infected a small number of systems, which tends to indicate that it is being used in highly targeted attacks. Like the Flame and Gauss malware before it, miniFlame itself is not a significant concern for enterprises; instead, enterprises should be wary of the techniques used by miniFlame, including its ability to operate as a module for other malware and allow the operator full remote access to the compromised system, which could be incorporated into automated toolkits by less sophisticated attackers.

This was first published in April 2013

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