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Ugly virus Flame attacking computers across Mideast

These are stories Report on Business is following Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Get the top business stories through the day on BlackBerry or iPhone by bookmarking our mobile-friendly webpage.

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Complex virus spreads There's a nasty virus attacking computers across the Middle East, gobbling up secret information.

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The virus, which is believed to have been spreading for at least two years and possibly up to five, is said to be the third-biggest Internet threat since 2010, following Stuxnet and Duqu. While it has affected a relatively small number of machines, possibly around 5,000, it's exceptionally complex.

Indeed, it's much more complex and spreading wider than its predecessors, attacking personal, business and school computers, says a report from Russian security company Kaspersky Labs released yesterday.

"The scary thing for me is: If this is what they were capable of five years ago, I can only think what they are developing now," Mohan Koo of Dtex Systems told The Associated Press.

Flame has struck countries such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria, among others. And it steals everything from instant messaging conversations to keystrokes. Kaspersky says it can also turn computers into eavesdropping devices, taking information from phones that could be nearby.

"The complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious program exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date," it said.

The virus has been particularly harsh in Iran, which said today it has developed an anti-virus program to fight it.

The International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations, according to Reuters, plans today to warn countries about protecting their infrastructure from Flame.

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"This is the most serious warning we have ever put out," Marco Obiso, the cyber security co-ordinator for the UN agency, told the news agency.

Flame, also known as Flamer, is said to be a Trojan with worm-like abilities to spread across a network.

On its official blog, the Symantec security group warns that Flamer is on par with the two very ugly previous threats, Stuxnet and Duqu, which it described as the two most "complex pieces of malware" analyzed to date. Stuxnet attacked an Iranian nuclear plant a few years ago.

It's not known who developed the latest threat, but, according to The New York Times, Kaspersky believes a government may be behind it.

"As with the previous two threats, this code was not likely to have been written by a single individual but by an organized, well-funded group of people working to a clear set of directives," Symantec said.

"Certain file names associated with the threat are identical to those described in an incident involving the Iranian Oil Ministry."

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Facebook slumps After the briefest of respites, shares of Facebook Inc. are sinking again.

Having started life as a public company at $38 (U.S.) a share, the stock is now under $30. Today was also the first day to trade options.

Scotiabank profit slips Bank of Nova Scotia posted a 10-per-cent dip in second-quarter profit today, but that compared to a year-earlier quarter of special gains.

Scotiabank earned $1.46-billion or $1.15 a share, The Globe and Mail's Grant Robertson reports, down from $1.62-billion or $1.39 a year earlier.

If you strip out last year's acquisition and currency gains, profit climbed 16 per cent, the bank said.

"Based on our strong performance in the first half of the year, we remain confident of achieving our goals and targets for 2012," said chief executive officer Rick Waugh.

Kinross sells Brazilian stake Kinross Gold Corp. is selling its stake in the Crixas gold mine in Brazil for $220-million (U.S.) as it focuses on developing its main assets, The Globe and Mail's Pav Jordan writes.

Canada's third-largest gold miner said it would sell its 50-per-cent stake in the mine to subsidiaries of AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. , which already owns the other half of the mine.

"Crixas is a non-operated, non-core asset for Kinross," said chief executive officer Tye Burt. "Its divestiture is consistent with our strategy of portfolio optimization, and focusing our resources on the Company's core operations and priority projects."

Rogers eyes hockey Rogers Media Inc. has its eye on the venerable Hockey Night in Canada franchise, which has been a Saturday night staple for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. since 1952, The Globe and Mail's Steve Ladurantaye reports.

Having recently expanded its network nationally through a series of deals and partnerships, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley says the broadcaster is taking a serious look at bidding on rights to Saturday night hockey when they come up for renewal in two years.

Home price decline eases Could the U.S. housing market finally be finding a bottom? More and more, while still tentative, the answer looks to be yes, The Globe and Mail's Jeremy Torobin writes.

The latest figures from the closely watched S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values, released today, add to glimmers of hope in recent months that the U.S. housing market is mounting a comeback.

Home prices in 20 major U.S. cities fell from a year earlier in March, but by just 2.6 per cent - the slowest year-on-year pace since December, 2010.

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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