Corporate IT has an old saying, "Computer users backup their data twice. Once after they buy a computer, and once after their computer crashes." Let's face it unless it's automatic, we don't do a lot to protect our data. After a crash, we remember to do backups... for a while. But the massive breakout of "ransomware" this weekend has reminded us all of how vulnerable our computers can be. Now, we're all checking that our anti-virus subscription hasn't run out! But a few of us have started to think, "WAIT A MINUTE... where was my antivirus made?"
Not too many years ago, anti-virus software was pretty much "Made-In-America". Microsoft offered some software with your operating system, while McAfee and Symantec battled it out for the title of #1 anti-virus software. Today, however, anti-virus software has become diversified and global.
Depending on how you count, Microsoft or Avast is the top Antivirus in the US. Microsoft is an American product, but Avast comes from Czechoslovakia. The next tier of software comes from America (Malwarebytes), Germany (Avera), and Slovakia (ESET). Russian has a respectable 4% of the US market with Kaspersky's Anti-Virus. Although Kaspersky insists that it is completely independent of the government.
If Russia was confident enough to tamper with our Presidential elections, why wouldn't they try to get spyware into Kaspersky? China once made counterfeits of CISCO routers with built-in spyware. A few years ago, a Chinese-made mobile phone had built-in spyware, with traces of tools made by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
Of course, America has its own intelligence operations. We invented the Stuxnet virus, infected HP centrifuges and then delivered them to Iran in 2010. This destroyed several of their labs and set back their nuclear weapons programs by a decade. All intelligence groups seek out a technological advantage.
Today, our documents are electronic, most work involves a computer, and business (banks, hospitals, power plants and critical infrastructure) are all computer based. It's only natural that intelligence agencies seek out methods to control the digital infrastructure of other nations.
This week, a massive wave of "ransomware" hit Europe. The virus encrypts your hard drive, locking you out of your own files. To add insult to injury, the tools to create the virus were stolen from the NSA (National Security Agency)... an Intelligence group set up to protect us against threats from other countries... by what appears to be foreign hackers.
Why did the NSA create these tools? The NSA and other government "security" agencies look for vulnerabilities in popular software that might be exploited by foreign governments, criminals, and terrorists. Unfortunately, rather than inform the developers of these vulnerabilities they "stockpile" this information in hopes of one day exploiting it against an enemy. It has been argued that stockpiling creates greater risks, especially if the stockpile is successfully hacked.
Washington on fire with accusations of Russian interference (electronic and traditional) with the elections, stolen email, and hacking of government agencies. There appears to be little that government spies won't do to achieve their goals. We suspect other governments of pulling dirty tricks and other governments suspect America of the same tricks. After all, Donald Trump, the President of America, has claimed that he is the victim of spying and dirty tricks from the US government. While Trump has not presented a shred of evidence to support his claims, I'm sure that the heads of Russia, North Korea, Terrorist groups and others will remind us of Trump's accusations, and will ask the world to ignore warnings from US Intelligence the next time we see something threatening in the world.
After all, Donald Trump, the President of America, has claimed that he is the victim of spying and dirty tricks from the US government. While Trump has not presented a shred of evidence to support his claims, the leaders of China, Russia, North Korea, and various Terrorist groups will remind us of Trump's accusations and tell the world to ignore warnings they hear from US Intelligence.
Government spies be are eager to influence the media. Wouldn't they be just as eager to influence antivirus manufacturers? Does that mean that a Russian-made product like Kaspersky should be approached with caution? Maybe. And perhaps we should also be concerned about products from Germany and Slovenia? Maybe.
Is your government spying on you? OF COURSE NOT! That would be wrong, unethical and probably illegal. Instead, your government spends it's time productively spying on everyone else in the world! What's the point of paying billions of dollars for spy agencies if they don't... SPY!
The latest ransomware attack may have involved US tools, but the attacks seem to be directed from North Korea. The US, China, and Russia have all complained about the damage to their economies. Not quite the international cooperation between the US and North Korea the world was waiting for!
After this week's ransomware attack, security software companies and national governments are going to be working more closely than ever before. Whatever their intent, anti-virus makers and the government will need to get much cozier with your data. Good thing we're all working on the same side. At least, you'd better hope we are!