Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A positive side to malicious software attacks

Most of us have fairly set computer/internet regimes, with the basic aim of getting the job done with a minimum of fuss. The constant threat of malicious software attack, spam overload and other electronic vandalism can hardly be seen as positive, but it has created an important realization around the world. Governments and major software corporations must develop working relationships to deal with the threats.

I have just lodged a submission to the Australian government on a broad program to create a safer web environment, particularly for children, but with all vulnerable users in mind. Personally I’ve always been paranoid about my computer’s health and safety. Not that they have never been anything special, but invaluable tools all the same.

One of my key recommendations was to find ways for government and corporations to work together to find solutions to a threat which deeply effects both. Governments have a duty of care to the wider community, the corporations too but their profit motive is a greater reality.

Then we read of the continuing threat of Conficker, also known as Downup, Downadup and Kido, the computer worm that just won’t go away. This nuisance is infecting tens of millions of computers around the world, including government and defence agencies. There are now calls for joint government/corporate

Certainly there are issues of separating social responsibility from commercial advantage. But the fact is, the corporations such as Microsoft, Apple, Symantec and MacAfee, just to name a few, each have economies larger than many countries and an ever increasing influence over our daily activities. We have entered a new era which calls for new approaches.

A report in 2007, funded by Microsoft, estimating that $514 billion in annual taxes are generated by it and its "ecosystem". That includes some of the above mentioned corporations of course, but reflect only taxes paid not turnover or profit. That is powerful and we make them so.

It could be argued that we elect them by electing to use their products, but there is no corresponding accountability, apart from any sense of meeting some level of customer satisfaction. The customer has not been highly regarded over the past few years; but these fashions tend to cycle and the cycle is slowly turning back to the customer.

What a cooperative government/corporate approach might look like is yet to be determined. These global leviathans have never responded well to pressure from mere national governments or laws. The difference now is the growing computer/internet security threat is as much against these corporations as it is governments and the wider community.

Some might dream visions of corporate social responsibility, but few would expect wide scale corporate altruism. Some might dream of governments forgoing the normal quick-fix minute soup answers in place of sound, long term solutions. Some might dream visions of Joe Public taking enough interest to play a responsible role in our future.

It often takes a crisis to drive a real solution, or even the interest to look. With the sickos using the system to entertain their fantasies, criminals bring old crimes to the computer age or even those lost souls who thrill at destroying other people’s property for no good reason, this new technology is facing a crisis. Let’s start talking and acting, together, to stop the rot now!

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