GENEVA — Swiss authorities suspended an 18-month investigation into suspected cyber-spying during international talks on Iran’s nuclear program last year, saying they have turned up criminal wrongdoing but haven’t found out who was behind it.
The office of Attorney General Michael Lauber said the investigation prompted by a report from Swiss intelligence authorities turned up malware “developed for the purposes of espionage” to scoop up data on many computers at a Geneva hotel. The talks in question took place at the President Wilson hotel.
Kaspersky, a Russian-based cybersecurity firm, announced at the time that it had uncovered the campaign, saying the malware was so sophisticated that a government must have created it.
Suspicion turned toward Israel at one point, after Kaspersky said that malware code dubbed Duqu, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, is believed to be used by Israeli spies, also appeared to have been used to spy on the nuclear talks.
The malware 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.
The Journal quoted “current and former US officials and many cybersecurity experts (as believing that) Duqu was designed to carry out Israel’s most sensitive intelligence-collection operations.”
Kaspersky never implicated Israel by name in its report on the Geneva talks. But it did conclude the threat in that case came from the same source as the original Duqu virus, and said it was likely carried out by a nation-state.
After the launch of the investigation, Israel denied its secret services were involved. In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely insisted there was “no basis” to reports of Israel’s involvement.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan also flatly rejected the allegations at the time, calling them “nonsense” in an interview with Israel Radio and saying Israel had other ways of gathering intelligence and didn’t need to resort to hacking.