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Bluetooth is a short-range wireless communications protocol generally used for wireless headsets, in-car audio systems or file-swapping between mobile phones. Woodward said that Flame can turn an infected computer into a kind of “industrial vacuum cleaner,” copying data from vulnerable cell phones or other devices left near it.

“I don’t believe I’ve seen it before,” he said.

Udi Mokady, chief executive of Cyber-Ark, an Israeli developer of information security, said he thought four countries, in no particular order, had the technological know-how to develop so sophisticated an electronic offensive: Israel, the U.S., China and Russia.

“It was 20 times more sophisticated than Stuxnet,” with thousands of lines of code that took a large team, ample funding and months, if not years, to develop, he said. “It’s a live program that communicates back to its master. It asks, `Where should I go? What should I do now?’ It’s really almost like a science fiction movie,” he said.

It’s not clear what exactly the virus was targeting. Kaspersky said it had detected the program in hundreds of computers, mainly in Iran but also in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The company has declined to go into detail about the nature of the victims, saying only that they “range from individuals to certain state-related organizations or educational institutions.”

Schouwenberg, the Kaspersky researcher, said stolen data was being sent to some 80 different servers, something which would give the virus’s controllers time to readjust their tactics if they were discovered. He added that some of Flame’s functions still weren’t clear.

“Maybe it’s just espionage,” he said. “Maybe it’s also sabotage.”

Kaspersky said it first detected the virus after the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union asked it for help in finding a piece of malware that was deleting sensitive information across the Middle East. The company stumbled across Flame when searching for that other code, it said.

Spokespeople for the Geneva-based Telecommunication Union didn’t return emails seeking comment.

The discovery of the Flame virus comes just days after nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers in Baghdad failed to persuade Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment. A new round of talks is expected to take place in Moscow next month.

Yaalon, the Israeli vice premier, told Army Radio on Tuesday that the talks in Iraq “yielded no significant achievement” except to let Iran buy time. He appeared to take a swipe at President Barack Obama by saying it might “even be in the interest of some players in the West to play for time.”


Teibel reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid also contributed to this report.


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