Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Is the U.S. government driving a black market in zero-day bugs?

Stuxnet made big headlines in 2010. That's when online security specialists first discovered this new piece of malware, one powerful enough to attack and control the industrial systems used in the nuclear program being developed by Iran. As a recent story by the MIT Technology Review says, many people today believe the intelligence departments of Israel and the United States teamed up to develop Stuxnet. And that, to many, is unsettling news. It's evidence of a new from of virtual warfare, one in which countries create powerful malware to unleash against their enemies. And the United States seems to be leading the charge.

A more dangerous Internet?

According to the Technology Review story, investigators are continually uncovering new malware that, like Stuxnet, has one goal: to act as a weapon. How many malware weapons have governments across the globe created? Nobody knows the answer to that. But the story does say that governments and companies, including in the United States, are paying big dollars to computer pros who create these malware weapons. That leaves a significant question left unanswered: Are these new malware weapons making the Internet an even more hazardous place?

Watch your smartphone

Don't believe that you can avoid malware weapons by doing most of your computing on tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. The reality is, governments are very interested in targeting these mobile devices. First, progressively more people are doing the majority of their computing on these mobile devices. Secondly, mobile devices are particularly susceptible to malware because their operating systems are updated so rarely. The Technology Review story points to Apple, which only updates its iPhone operating system a couple of times each year. That represents a golden opportunity for governments to infect the smartphones of suspects with spyware.

Nothing new?

The Technology Review story ends on a somber note. Perhaps, it suggests, these malware weapons are not so unusual. Countries around the world routinely develop new weapons. Malware exploits might be the latest version of an arms race. However, consumers might be caught in the crossfire of a Web that's suddenly become infinitely more dangerous.

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