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

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

Stuxnet made big headlines back in 2010. That’s when online security specialists first found this new piece of malware, one strong enough to attack and control the industrial equipment 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 collaborated to develop Stuxnet. And that, to many, is troubling news. It’s proof of a new from of electronic warfare, one in which countries create powerful malevolent software to unleash on their adversaries. And the United States is apparently leading the charge.

A developing industry

What will be the long-term impact of malware weapons? The Technology Review story worries that governments, by investing a great deal of research and dollars into creating these virtual weapons, is making an ever-more hazardous Internet. And it appears that these fears are justified. Since Stuxnet was exposed in 2010, it’s clear that governments have spent a lot more money producing malware weapons. No one knows, in reality, how frequently such weapons have been deployed. It’s almost certain many of these weapons have already been unleashed without the public’s knowledge.

A mobile attack?

Don’t think that you can avoid malware weapons by doing most of your computing on tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. The truth is, governments are very interested in targeting these mobile devices. First, an increasing number of people are doing the majority of their computing on these mobile devices. Secondly, mobile devices are particularly vulnerable 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 per year. That represents a golden opportunity for governments to infect the smartphones of suspects with spyware.

An age-old threat?

The Technology Review story ends on a somber note. Maybe, it suggests, these malware weapons are not so extraordinary. Countries throughout the world routinely create new weapons. Malware exploits might be the latest version of an arms race. Unfortunately, consumers might be caught in the crossfire of a Web that’s suddenly become infinitely more dangerous.