WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Russian research firm Kaspersky Lab said the United States is now capable of infecting computer firmware with spyware and malware.
The hacking techniques, similar to the joint U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet attack,, target essential components of a computer's software that is generally safe from attack.
Hard drives can be formatted, operating systems wiped and software reinstalled, but if firmware becomes infected, spyware is nearly impossible to wipe out.
Corrupted firmware renders computers un-usable and the only solution is to replace the hardware, Andrew Regenscheid, a math researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told the New York Times.
Computers infected with the spyware were implanted into the hard drives of computers made by companies including Toshiba, IBM and Seagate and used in 30 countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia, which are all priorities for U.S. intelligence agencies.
"To put it simply: for most hard drives there are functions to write into the hardware firmware area, but there are no functions to read it back," Costin Raiu, director of the global research and analysis team at Kaspersky Lab, said. "It means that we are practically blind, and cannot detect hard drives that have been infected by this malware."
Researchers at Kaspersky indirectly suggested that the United States and National Security Agency could be responsible.
Kaspersky said the software was created by an organization called the Equation Group.
Equation Group is linked to the creation of the computer worm Stuxnet, a joint U.S. and Israeli project, which disabled about 1,000 Iranian nuclear enrichment centrifuges in 2010.
Kaspersky Lab's research is considered credible by Western experts. Previously, Kaspersky detailed a cyber attack on more than 100 banks and financial institutions.