Israel denies link to computer virus used to spy on Iran talks

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has denied reports that it is linked to a computer virus used to spy on European hotels hosting the Iran nuclear talks.

“The international reports of Israeli involvement in the matter are baseless,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio on Thursday, referring to findings by the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab ZAO first reported a day earlier by The Wall Street Journal. “What is much more important is that we prevent a bad agreement where at the end of the day we find ourselves with an Iranian nuclear umbrella.”

Kaspersky’s finding, according to The Wall Street Journal, said each of the unnamed hotels was targeted by a version of the Duqu virus, widely believed to be used as spyware by Israel, about two weeks before hosting the negotiations between Iran and world powers.

Following the release of the report, Israel’s deputy defense minister, Eli Ben-Dahan, denied its allegations, calling it “total nonsense.”

Kaspersky does not identify Israel by name as being responsible for the virus, which allows the hacker to eavesdrop on conversations and steal electronic files, and could also enable the hacker to operate two-way microphones in hotel elevators, computers and alarm systems. But it does use hints, including the name of the report: “The Duqu Bet.” Bet could be a reference to the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Duqu virus reportedly is related to Stuxnet, the computer worm that set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months or years by affecting some of its computer systems and centrifuges used to enrich uranium after it was released in 2010. The New York Times reported that it was a joint project of Israel and the United States.

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