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Innovation in Information Security

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Information Technology can be a Deadly Game

The Times Online recently carried a report on the execution in Iran of an IT expert who was accused of spying for Israel.

Details of the supposed spying sound like something out of a John Le Carr? novel or actions taken at the height of the Cold War, but go to show that there are still places in the world where espionage and spying are still considered a highly active and dangerous profession.

As a trusted defence systems provider, the executed man was permitted to travel outside of Iran in order to acquire the advanced hardware and software necessary to operate and develop Iran's nuclear program. It is claimed that the equipment he acquired and imported back into Iran had been altered by the Israeli security service, Mossad, before it was imported.

This appears to be a very similar approach to a Cold War-era CIA action that is reported to have taken place with modified photocopiers being sold / provided to Russia.

With Israel denying that the executed man was a Mossad recruit, and with seemingly Iranian-sourced speculative claims of Israel's technical prowess, there just isn't enough information available to clearly identify whether intentionally compromised systems were provided to Iran through the executed man.

Ideally, critical military and power generation systems should never be connected to the Internet or other public networks, employing an air gap to minimise risk of compromise or leak of sensitive data. However, given the recent experiences of the US military with nominally air-gapped systems being compromised, it can be difficult to actually make sure this is the case.

Conspiracy theorists have long suspected that common commercial operating systems have been intentionally compromised by government agencies (usually US government agencies) and this case is an extreme example of that sort of thinking.

It may be true that the systems were compromised or otherwise neutered before being sold to Iran, but there is no evidence presented to support that argument.

3 December 2008

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