When Kaspersky first unearthed Flame, which it classified as cyberespionage malware, Raiu estimated that, despite the fact it was only 20MB in size, that it would take up to 10 years to truly understand how it works. "No anti-virus company has figured out how Flame works," Raiu said. "There is so much code, so many subroutines, so much obfuscation and encryption that you need a lot of super highly talented people ... to understand what it does."
Gauss is another allegedly state sponsored piece of sophisticated malicious software. Again, this software has been difficult for researchers to decipher. "The true purpose of the Gauss malware remains unknown," Raiu said. Buried in Gaus is a "warhead," or a block of code that has been encrypted multiple times, Raiu said. "Nobody has been able to decrypt it to know what it actually does," Raiu said.
Kaspersky's most recent find was Red October. "Red October was extremely targeted," Raiu said. Raiu said that the software targeted government diplomatic institutions, which is not the normal target for profit minded malware writers. It also specifically targeted governments, energy companies, military contractors and aerospace companies.
Red October is also more sophisticated than the average profit-driven malware. It is a modular system. It "looks at what you have on your computer and depending on what you have, and what you do with your computer, [it] will send you dedicated modules for different purposes," Raiu said. One module, for instance, steals data from mobile phones. Another module can retrieve deleted data from USB memory sticks.
The rise of nation state malware is bad news for enterprises in a number of ways, Raiu said.
Cyberwarfare "has a lot of hidden dangers," Raiu said. Weaponized exploits developed by governments can be reused by cyber criminals for profit. Another danger is unintended proliferation. "Cyberweapons, which have the ability to multiply by themselves, can simply get out of control," Raiu said.
In either case, organizations and individuals can suffer from damage from this software, either intentionally or accidentally.
For instance, in January 2010, Google -- rather than a U.S. government agency -- alerted the world about the Aurora malware attack that took place against Google and other large IT companies, charging that the Chinese government was behind the attacks.