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[liberationtech] Computer viruses slow African expansion

Leslie Wu lwu135 at gmail.com
Sat Dec 26 12:22:04 PST 2009


Seems like an actual use case for Engineers without Borders! :)

I've heard things can get nasty in Chinese Windowsland..

Sent from my iPhone

On Dec 26, 2009, at 8:43 AM, Yosem Companys <ycompanys at gmail.com> wrote:

>
>
> Computer viruses slow African expansion
> Hampered by pirated software and super-slow download times, computer  
> users in Africa are finding PC viruses hard to eradicate
> Chris Michael
> guardian.co.uk,	 Wednesday 12 August 2009 20.30 BST
>  larger | smaller
>
> Terminal velocity … Computer viruses have caused havoc for governmen 
> t programmes and business development in Africa. Photograph: Louise  
> Gubb/Corbis
>
> Alan Mercer was at his desk in the regional capacity building bureau  
> in Assosa, westernEthiopia, when a man burst into his office,  
> distraught. Right at the end of a four-year master's degree  
> programme, he had lost the only copy of his thesis to a computer  
> virus. Mercer, an IT trainer with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO),  
> wasn't surprised. "Show me an Ethiopian computer without a virus and  
> I'd ask which foreigner it belongs to," he says.
>
> While western countries have partially learned to neutralise the  
> threat of computer viruses, Africa has become a hive of trojans,  
> worms and exploiters of all stripes. As PC use on the continent has  
> spread in the past decade (in Ethiopia it has gone from 0.01% of the  
> Ethiopian population to 0.45% through 1999-2008), viruses have  
> hitched a ride, wreaking havoc on development efforts, government  
> programmes and fledgling businesses.
>
> Infection rate
>
> "It wouldn't be unreasonable to say 80% of all computers you find in  
> Africa will have some nastiness on them," says Tariq Khokhar, the  
> chief development officer of Aptivate, a non-governmental  
> organisation that focuses on IT. This compares to around 30% in the  
> UK, according to Panda Security. The cost is hard to measure, but  
> ask IT consultants and development workers about the impact, and the  
> stories pour out. Mercer tells of an agriculture bureau employee who  
> lost the multi-year plan for agricultural improvements for the  
> Benishangul-Gumuz region, Ethiopia's fourth poorest area. Jeremy  
> Brown, an IT consultant in Cameroon, says that one client was  
> operating with more than 200 infected files, drastically slowing  
> down its PCs, corrupting confidential information and exposing it  
> over the internet. Even the Congress of South African Trade Unions  
> found in May that its website was spreading viruses to visitors.  
> "Viruses are pretty endemic," says Brown. "All organisations and  
> individuals are affected by them."
>
> Viruses spontaneously reboot computers, destroy vital data, and clog  
> Ethiopia's already severely pinched internet connection (it is not  
> unusual to wait 10 minutes to access a single web page). The result:  
> funding applications delayed, small businesses hurt, and hours  
> wasted. "PCs that were bought with limited funds or donated sit  
> collecting dust in the corner of the room because they have been  
> devastated by viruses," says André Mohamed, an IT professional in Et 
> hiopia. "It's a major reduction in productivity and efficiency."
>
> "Viruses are our enemy," says Debebe Fikreselassie, the head of ICT  
> at the Benishangul-Gumuz bureau where Mercer is a VSO volunteer. "We  
> are installing free antivirus but the behaviour of the virus is  
> changing [over] time … and developing countries lack money to buy li 
> censed antivirus like Symantec."
>
> That hits the nail on the head, agrees Tim Unwin, the Unesco chair  
> of ICT4D, an IT development collective at Royal Holloway, University  
> of London. "The fundamental problem is that institutions in much of  
> the developing world cannot afford the antivirus [AV] protection  
> that those in richer countries can," he says. Khokhar agrees. "For  
> Africa, the cost of AV is pretty damn high. An annual licence of £30 
>  per user per year can get pretty daunting when you've got 1,000 use 
> rs."
>
> Without special pricing, poor countries are forced to rely on free  
> antivirus products, such as AVG. "Writing antivirus software is a  
> fairly brain-intensive task, and AVG just don't have the resources,"  
> Khokhar says. "It's not to say something's not better than nothing,  
> but ultimately, the viruses that are going to cause real damage are  
> going to get through."
>
> Brand-new PCs are often ridden with viruses from the start when  
> vendors install pirated, infected copies of Windows – Khokhar estima 
> tes that around a third of pirated software is already infected. And 
>  even when antivirus software is installed, it is almost impossible  
> to keep up to date. The daily update of new virus definitions from S 
> ymantec is around 40MB; McAfee's is around 100MB. "On a 56Kb dialup  
> link, we are talking all day to download," Mercer says. Sometimes th 
> e update file is removed and replaced by a newer one before the down 
> load has had time to complete.
>
> "The entire national bandwidth for Ethiopia, I can simulate that in  
> my house," Khokhar says. This keeps Ethiopia off the antivirus  
> software provider Kaspersky's annual list of the top 10 countries  
> both originating and being targeted by viruses; in 2008, China led  
> both categories. The Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy)  
> would help Ethiopians download antivirus updates faster, but would  
> also expose them to more attacks. "If you wanted a way to get  
> [African countries] on to that top 10 list of countries affected by  
> viruses, the first step is to install a big internet connection,"  
> Khokhar says.
>
> The financial and technical problems are compounded by the  
> developing world's dire shortage of IT education. "The IT degrees  
> here are totally theoretical. People do not understand the concept  
> of backups, antivirus and data security in the first place," says  
> Mercer.
>
> Computer viruses are not the only reason Africa lags behind the west  
> in IT development. Electricity supply, training, and bandwidth  
> management issues make e-business a pipe dream in most places. But  
> people are fighting back. Mercer does a day of antivirus and power- 
> protection training as part of all his training courses, as do many  
> people at VSO on an informal basis.
>
> Throw out Windows
> Unwin says replacing Windows with Linux would help (80% of viruses  
> are written in China, where Windows dominates). The Ethiopian  
> government has, in fact, made open source software central to its IT  
> plans. Khokhar says it's no magic solution. "If you suddenly had an  
> increase in Linux or Mac use in China, you'd find those two  
> platforms are just as vulnerable." Using better software in general,  
> he argues, would be a better place to start. "If you could somehow  
> clobber RealNetworks, Adobe and Microsoft to say, 'Can you please  
> write software that doesn't have that many exploits, or if exploits  
> are identified, have some mechanism for closing them more quickly' – 
>  then that would really help."
>
> It's a good bet that virus writers devising ever more ingenious ways  
> of sticking a knife between Microsoft's ribs rarely consider where  
> their handiwork ends up.
>
> "I'd take them to Ethiopia," says Mercer. "I'd show them the man who  
> lost his agricultural development plan to the virus he wrote. Then  
> I'd show him the kids who will die in two years because the  
> agricultural reforms came too late and the annual harvest failed  
> because the agricultural development plan at the regional  
> agricultural bureau was destroyed by his virus."
>
> The sad irony is that Ethiopia's enthusiastic embrace of the  
> computer has made it more vulnerable, as people start dispensing  
> with paper records. "Now, with no backup, and important data on a  
> computer, they are at risk – they have something to lose," Mercer sa 
> ys. Mohamed agrees: "The computer, instead of being an enabler for d 
> evelopment, often becomes a hindrance."
>
> guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
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