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 discovered this new piece of malware, one potent enough to attack and control the industrial equipment used in the nuclear program being developed by Iran. As a recently available story by the MIT Technology Review says, many people today believe the intelligence departments of Israel and the United States collaborated to create Stuxnet. And that, to many, is unsettling news. It’s proof of a new from of virtual warfare, one in which countries create powerful malevolent software to unleash against their adversaries. And the United States is apparently leading the charge.

A developing industry

According to the Technology Review story, researchers are continually discovering 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. However the story does report that governments and companies, including in the United States, are paying big dollars to computer professionals who create these malware weapons. That leaves a big question left unanswered: Are these new malware weapons making the web an even more dangerous place?

Smartphones are not safe, either

As people move more firmly toward mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, so are the creators of malware weapons. The Technology Review story states that exploits aimed towards mobile operating systems are especially valuable due to the fact mobile systems are updated so infrequently. As the report points out, Apple only sends updates to its iPhone software a few times per year. That leaves the system vulnerable to government that would love to surreptitiously install malware such as spyware on the mobile phones of terrorism suspects.

An old story?

The Technology Review story ends on a somber note. Maybe, it suggests, these malware weapons are not so unusual. Countries across the globe routinely develop 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 considerably more dangerous.

Posted on: 03.13.13