A new report more or less confirms what was suspected all along: that the Flame malware attack on Iranian computer systems was masterminded by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agents to slow down the Iranian nuclear program. Flame is a super weapon, a devastating kind of malware that can eavesdrop from the desktop of an infected computer. It can collect personal and private information such as images and all forms of communication going through the computer.
A whole new can of worms has been opened, and if the Flame code gets into the hands of hackers it will unleash a new kind of cyber-threat, one which won't only be costly economically, but also to the environment as well.
One commentor on a Huffington Post article noticed what many of us are thinking: "Like any pandemic virus, the contagion is going to spread everywhere. The stupitity of these military-political-industrial-technical complexes amazes me. They have endangered the entire Internet. Now the real question is how do I protect myself, since no one has mentioned the existence of an antidote."
And indeed, researchers from Symantic, a popular cyber-security company, said that the Flame could be used against any kind of computer anywhere: ones that run dams, manufacturing plants, chemical companies, or critical infrastructure companies. Companies and governments will now have to be on high alert and invest much money and time to stay secure.
With an estimated 1.5 billion people using the Internet, there is a lot of money being lost to replace, back up, and restore data. Even more to recover it if the data is completely lost or leaked. Think of how many emails and work it takes explaining to your business colleagues, friends and family that you weren't really in Nigeria this weekend, and that you didn't really lose your wallet. My web-based Hotmail has been hacked, and the results were embarrassing, and timely to fix. All this extra time online spent on non-productive activities (sending out hundreds of emails) is bad for the planet.
According to a 2008 European commission report by BIO Intelligence Service, the wired population of Europe contributes to 2 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. This number will double by 2020 if we don't change our lifestyle, says the report. While these figures aren't close to the greenhouse gases emitted by air travel, the numbers are significant. An example of a company in France is given. An office of 100 people with an average of 58 emails a day creates 13.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent gases per year, the same as 13 return flights from New York to Paris.
Imagine what happens to the carbon emissions from the office when a virus or other malware attacks? Emails double or triple, servers work overtime, people work longer and new hardware might be purchased to contain a threat. That's why cyber-threats are also very much a threat to the planet.
Civilians like us have a few tools like anti-virus software and firewalls to protect ourselves from online threats. I purposely bought an Apple laptop because there are few programmers willing to invest time in attacking an operating system that most of the world doesn't use. So far (knock on wood) I have been MacBooking for about seven years with no problems -- no viruses or malware as far as I've noticed. And thanks to the Mac, my efficiency has improved. With my back-up PC, I turn to other security solutions rather than the standard virus checker software that slows down your system while scanning for threats. I find the standard software solutions slow me down way too much to make it worth my while. Instead I find disk encryption software works best to help me make sure my data is backed up and safe. With the wonders of cloud computing there are tons of online solutions that can help you protect your data, solutions that don't necessary require the slow-to-run virus checkers that put your computing efficiency back to the early 2000s.
If you are really worried about staying safe, some online security experts I've talked with have said to avoid using free email services like Hotmail and Gmail. They suggest buying an email account through your ISP or internet provider. My mom puts masking tape over her camera and video eye on her laptop, and it's good to always make sure you have a password on your wireless Internet service.
Some find these extra cautions a waste of time: Are we willing to pay for the cost of convenience to stay so safe? Some will, and some won't.
As for me, I'll probably keep taking the lane of least resistance -- using the tools that work best for me, while keeping personal data as much as I am able offline and out of reach from cyber threats.
Karin Kloosterman is the founder and editor of Green Prophet, the leading sustainable news source for the Middle East.