With the vicious terrorism of groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram drawing the attention of the world, other threats to the International Community seem to, at best, briefly make it into the headlines. One such story is the so-called “Equation Group” and its toolkit of malware that allows it to hack the firmware of most hard drives on the planet. If the report of the Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab can be trusted, as well as the sequent reporting that links the NSA to the use of the malware described in the report, it probably represents the one of the greatest security threat to the developed world, as well as the developing world.
Unfortunately, hackers are not the easiest bunch of people to locate while the Ukraine Crisis and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-West PR campaign creates a perverse incentive for Russian firms to cast undue suspicion onto the United States and its allies. Given the Edward Snowden NSA Revelations elevated Putin’s standing on the world stage at the expense of US soft power months before the Ukraine Crisis developed, reviving that story is an advantage for the Russian government. It is, therefore, important to take this news with a grain of salt and recognize its release will be used to manipulate people.
That said, the ability of hackers, any hacker for that matter, to infiltrate the code of hardware, circumvent detection methods, and permanently infect any computer system in the world is a serious issue. There are individuals who will not create an online banking account, because they fear their personal data with be stolen. The truth is that their data is already online. After all, banks do everything electronically. In fact, almost every aspect of our lives is being digitalized, thus the ability to control hardware creates a situation where all personal and professional data is thoroughly insecure.
This, of course, means those who control the hardware of the world control commerce, national defense, utilizes, transformation, social media, and every other facet of modern life. If the NSA is using these hacking tools to defend and deter attacks on US networks, the rest of the International Community is certainly going to be concerned, because it puts them at a disadvantage. When the NSA uses these tools for offensive purposes, or unaccountable elements within the Agency decide to silence critics, the true threat of such capacities will hit the International Community and the Peoples of the world hard. Recognizing that the use of this malware goes back, at least, as far as 2001, it is clear hardliners in the NSA used events like the September 11th terrorist attacks as an excuse to engage in hacking attacks and that is the kind of abusive, manipulative mentality that makes the NSA a threat to people.
Although many individuals would disagree with this statement, the truth is that the NSA is not the worst entity in the world to have this capability. From criminal organizations to the security agencies of far more brutal governments to businesses looking to gain a competitive edge, the reality that this malware exist means others will be increasingly compelled to build these tools. In essence, the arms race for cyber warfare and cybercrime is likely transitioning into a “nuclear age.” For the average person “living” in the cyber world, the internet is rapidly becoming another place where the rights and freedoms of individuals are threatened by increasingly powerful segments of the population, i.e. the tech savvy and those with the resources to build complex tools.
On the other hand, the Kaspersky report does offer a major benefit. Recognizing this technology likely exists in the world today, and has been used for over a decade, creates a sense of urgency when it comes to improving cyber security. It also pushes forward the debate on privacy issues and the governance of the internet by turning a hypothetical doomsday situation into a near reality. America’s use of the atomic bomb triggered a need to avoid war. The Equation Malware may not offer as impressive of a bang as a nuclear bomb, but the devastation that could come from the abuse of this technology would spell the end for our modern way of life.
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