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Developing world, developing problems

Richard Bowman | April 24, 2009
Fertile ground for the distribution of viruses, spam and malware

The rise of an Internet-savvy middle class in developing countries such as India and China has created a fertile launching pad for the distribution of viruses, spam and malware, which the bad guys are now using. As India and China come online through their middle class, it introduces new security challenges for the broader Western world.

On the Internet, everything is connected to everything else. Distance does not separate a business in London from a virus-compromised home computer in Bangalore or Beijing. The problem for businesses anywhere in the world is that the more compromised computers there are, the greater the torrent of malware and spam.

India and China are in the news because of their tremendous economic growth. The Chinese economy expanded by 9.8 per cent in 2008 and the Indian economy by 6.6 per cent (Statistics from World Internet Statistics, 2008)  

This economic power is matched by a growing number of Internet-connected computers and a growing middle class with broadband access at home. India had 81 million Internet users in 2008, while China had 298 million in 2008 (Statistics from The Internet Governance Forum, 2008).

In our experience, it is not just the number of computers or Internet users that cause problems for our customers, but the number of broadband connections. Why? First, when a computer is permanently connected to the Internet, it is easier to infect with a virus. Second, an infected computer can join a botnet and start spamming other Internet users or sending out more viruses. Worse, it can do it at a high speed, 24 hours a day.

Broadband statistics show relentless growth for the developing economies. By the end of 2008, the Asia-Pacific region had more than 171 million broadband subscribersan increase of 31.5 per cent over the previous year (Statistics from  Frost & Sullivan, 2008).

Where we see increased virus activity in a region, botnets and spam follow. Our hypothesis is that users in developing countries may be new to the Internet and unaware of the risks they run when they go online and the techniques they need to apply in order to protect themselves.

In 2008, spammers developed an affinity for spamming from large, reputable Web-based e-mail and application services by defeating CAPTCHA (completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart) techniques to generate massive numbers of personal accounts from these services. Complex Web-based malware targeting social networking sites and vulnerabilities in legitimate websites also became widespread in 2008, resulting in malware being installed onto computers with no user intervention required.

Other methods of malware attack common in 2008 also included attacks disguised as free application downloads and games targeted at new smart phones, and targeted Trojan attacks that rose to a peak of 98 per day in December 2008. Towards the end of 2008, the credit crisis generated many new finance-related attacks as spammers and scammers sought to take advantage of the panic and uncertainty.


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