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Security biz U-turns on Gauss, Flame joint cyberspy hub claim

FireEye mistook rival's sinkhole for command server

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Computer security biz FireEye has withdrawn claims that the Gauss and Flame super-viruses may be linked.

This is after it emerged that what FireEye had thought was a shared command-and-control server, used to send instructions to PCs compromised by the malware, was actually a "sinkhole" maintained by rival researchers at Kaspersky Lab.

FireEye had noticed communications from both virus strains were heading to the same IP address – but this was a system set up by the Russian lab, which had asked DNS providers to redirect data sent from the two software nasties so as to examine their network traffic.

Staff from Kaspersky came forward to explain their role after FireEye published a blog post asserting that whoever created Flame must also have created Gauss, a conclusion FireEye researchers quickly withdrew. Kaspersky experts had previously pointed to some coding similarities between the two malware strains, both of which have been linked to presumably state-sponsored espionage in the Middle East.

"In light of new information shared by the security community, we now know that our original conclusions were incorrect and we cannot associate these two malware families based solely upon these common CnC coordinates," FireEye researchers conceded in an updated blog post.

"We apologise for any confusion that has resulted from our earlier assumptions. Unfortunately, the lack of a common information exchange about such activities can result in misleading conclusions."

Sinkholes do not advertise themselves as such, so innocent mistakes along these lines are more or less inevitable in the absence of better communication among security firms. For example, an analysis of malicious botnet command-and-control servers by security outfit Damballa a couple of years back failed to factor in the existence of deliberately established sinkholes, leading to incorrect conclusions as a result. ®

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