Looking for a more dangerous Web? The U.S. government might be building it

Remember Stuxnet? Back in 2010, a new bit of malevolent software attacked multiple systems required to access and control industrial equipment being used in Iran’s nuclear program. The details of this malware remain fuzzy, but, as a recent story from the MIT Technology Review reports, Stuxnet is widely believed to be the work of the United States and Israeli governments. That makes Stuxnet particularly important: As the Technology Review story says, Stuxnet is among the most visible signs of a new kind of warfare: government-controlled malware developed to attack the computers and security systems of other countries. Like it or not, it appears that the United States is at the cutting edge of this phenomenon.

A more dangerous Internet?

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

Watch your smartphone

Don’t believe that you can avoid malware weapons by doing most of your computing on tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. The truth is, governments are particularly keen on targeting these mobile devices. First, progressively more people are doing the majority of their computing on these mobile devices. Secondly, mobile devices are particularly susceptible 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 aren’t so extraordinary. Countries around the world routinely create new weapons. Malware exploits might be the latest version of an arms race. However, consumers might be caught in the crossfire of a Web that’s suddenly become considerably more dangerous.