A number of years ago, the anti-virus companies were approached by the U.S. government with a request for their software not to detect American espionage viruses. This created an interesting dilemma for these companies. The need for spying may be a genuine need for national security. On the other hand, if people learn their anti-virus software does not reveal all viruses, the credibility of the anti-virus software is undermined.
Malware is a term which has recently come to cover almost any form of software which invades user privacy or in some way degrades the functionality of a computer. Regin may very well be the most sophisticated piece of clandestinely placed spyware as yet written. Its ability to hide on a computer and the fact that Symantec, the company that has detected it is not yet certain about all the things it does, speaks to its sophistication.
With Russia and Saudi Arabia as the countries with the greatest Regin infection, there are some likely candidates for where it comes from. Two years ago, in a freshman seminar I was teaching, the infamous Stuxnet worm, which seemed to target Iranian computers, was still unknown as to source. I told my students I was certain it was American in origin. We have since learned it was a joint American/Israeli invention. Once again, the most likely author of this brilliant spyware is the United States. I suppose we will hear from Eric Snowden about it one of these days.
So what do I think about Regin? Well unless it starts causing me identity theft, I’m actually glad that we have a much-needed ear to the wall to give us much needed national intelligence. My only advice for our government is, try not to get caught!
This week the issue of Internet fast lanes reared its ugly head again with discussion by the FCC of allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon to charge Internet based services like NetFlix, YouTube and Hulu a fee that would allow them broader bandwidth to the consumer connected on the ISP. ISPs claim that movie content services place a heavy bandwidth load on their services and that they should receive compensation for that heavy load. You can check it out on cnn.com.
Under the banner of a free Internet, the opponents claim it will stifle innovation on the Internet and make it hard for start up companies that place a heavy bandwidth load on the Internet with their content to be able to pay the new fees.
Ironically, the biggest load on the Internet itself at present is unwanted spam email. Thanks to email filters, most of us are now shielded from this unwelcome content but it does slow down the movement of traffic across the Internet. Digital content flowing across the Internet does not match the spam load. The issue being discussed her focuses not on the load on the Internet but rather the service provided who connects the user to the Internet.
If Netflix is made to pay these fees, you can bet that they will pass the cost onto customers. The company will likely shift to two different service options: DVD only vs. DVD and live streaming. Hulu would have no choice but to raise fees. If forced to pay the fee, I suspect that Facebook will just remove videos from their page content. The biggest problem, however, is for free services like YouTube which survives on its advertising sales.
We could also expect greater differentiation than we currently see in the fees charged by ISPs. Already some small ISPs in the U.S. charge customers for how much bandwidth they want and there are some very cheap low bandwidth ISPs that are awful for watching online movies. We can expect that even broadband services will begin to charge higher premiums to those of us who use lots of bandwidth. Curiously enough, Australian ISPS do not charge for different levels of bandwidth but limit how much content can been received per month without additional charges.
Much of what is happening seems to be a result of pressure from the big ISP’s (Comcast/Xfinity and Verizon). This debate is not being driven by consumers complaining about the quality of their service. The question the FCC really needs to ponder is what is in the best interest of American and, for that matter, world Internet users. While the FCC once saw one of its role as protecting the interests of broadcast stations, the role of protector of ISP’s disturbs me as a further manifestation of how big business influences our government.