Flamer Worm and National Software Strategy

Wake-Up, Wake-Up, Wake-Up! The Book of Isaiah and Revelation have said enough on apathy and docility, and there may be nothing more to say. But how long will …

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Wake-Up, Wake-Up, Wake-Up! The Book of Isaiah and Revelation have said enough on apathy and docility, and there may be nothing more to say. But how long will Nigeria harbor and ignorantly elude the dreaded software catastrophe that has stated and continues to hunt all nations of the world? At last, one of the most complex threats to the emerging information society (IS) ever discovered, is here! Will Africa (Nigeria) sooner or later become the ultimate victim and looser?
Chris Uwaje,CEO of Connect Technologies and President of Institute of Software practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON)

 

Meanwhile, recent revelation from the G8 conference reveals that the world is marching towards a global food scarcity by 2050. At that time, the population of Africa will be equivalent to that of China, but with 60% of World’s arable land. That means that the global food security plan will depend on the arable land in Africa to survive.

 

Ordinarily, the above can be computed as a golden opportunity for Africa as the food basket of the world, but that may not the case after all. Fact is, outsiders are busy mapping strategies on how to tap into Africa’s solar energy, fisheries, agricultural resource and eventually, e-forcefully control those resources via Data and Information e-espionage channel.

 
The world we live in today is best described as a “software first world”. The intensity of funding global software knowledge research points to the fact that the greatest battle ground of mankind this century resides in national software know-how, capability and capacities. And the Flame has already begun to burn and this Flamer type adventure will sooner or later devour unprepared and unprotected nations such as ours. It will be recollected that Stuxnet worm was also a complex computer worm that damaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2009 and 2010 by causing them to spin out of control.

 
According to various reliable reports, for at least the past two years, a large, complex piece of malicious software has infected hundreds of computers across the Middle East, stealing victims’ data and spying on their online activities, security researchers have discovered.

 
The malware, dubbed “Flame” or “Flamer” because the words appear in its code, is unique in its size and the ways it can siphon victims’ personal data. It can monitor computer users by taking screenshots of their e-mail or Instant Messenger conversations. It can record their audio conversations from an internal microphone or through Skype. And it can use Bluetooth technology to steal data on devices located near the infected computer, Alexander Gostev, a researcher at the Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab, has confirmed.

 
The National Software Question: The Information Society challenges of the 21st century have just begun. These challenges continue to multiply and increase per nano-second with greater complexities. Therein lays the National Software question for Nigeria.

 
How prepared is Nigeria within the context of National Software capacities and capabilities? And by extension, is our current ICT development model secured and sustainable with a gross deficit of Software Code warriors? Who will fight the Cyber war for Nigeria and Africa very near future? Can we allow and indeed afford to be taken hostage once again – after the unconditional surrender and uncompensated slave trade exploit? One thing is very clear; 21st Century ICT will take hostages of software-porous nations. The recent encounter between Microsoft and European Union with respect to Anti-thrust and Windows palaver is just a tip of the ice berg. Collectively, the world hasn’t seen ‘nothing’ yet with regards to cyber wars.

 
Gostev said that the malware was designed to “systematically collect information on the operations of certain nation states in the Middle East.” Thus far, the most frequent victims of the malware have been located in Iran, but there have also been victims in Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

 

He added that Flame’s creators appear to be looking for any kind of intelligence-emails, documents, messages and discussions inside sensitive locations. The creators remain unknown, but the malware appears to be part of a government-led espionage campaign, experts say.”Flame can easily be described as one of the most complex threats ever discovered,” Gostev said. “It’s big and incredibly sophisticated. It pretty much redefines the notion of cyber war and cyber espionage.”

 
There is a fundamental and urgent need to establish an e-Knowledge Commission and Software Technology Committee for the National Assembly for many reasons directly related to the core-existence, survivability, national security and global competitiveness of Nigeria.

 

Above all, the fundamental need to empower Nigerians, the colossal workload and government deliverable obligations to citizens in the Information Technology Domain – which critically interfaces with all human activities – makes it a strategic imperative to establish a Knowledge Commission and Software Committee at the Senate and House of Representative levels. The scope and magnitude of these challenges, opportunities and risks calls for ‘The e-Knowledge Initiative’ (e-KI) are deeply challenging.

 

The ultimate goal is to establish a “Knowledge Commission” (KC) immediately ensuring a proactive drive for ‘IT for all’ by 2015. Recognizing Information and Communications Technology to be the new frontier of knowledge, and also a critical enabling tool for assimilating, processing and producing valuable and wealth-based output for all other spheres of knowledge, the National Assembly should establish a “Knowledge Commission” (KC) as a strategic imperative to accelerate e-reasoning and the development of IT capacities and accrued benefits to the nation.

 
‘The e-Knowledge Initiative’: The aim of this national IT-emergency campaign is to empower all Nigerians by delivering nation-wide (state-wide and LGA-wide) computer skill literacy and in particular to special IT projects and diffuse the application and use of computers and IT in the Civil Service and Education Sector in particular and the nation in general.

 
When the Knowledge Commission is established by enactment of an Act in the Senate, the concept of ‘Operation National e-Knowledge’ shall be developed into a comprehensive strategy within the next three months.

 
IT State of Emergency White Paper: Meanwhile, and as a matter of utmost urgency, the Senate should declare the national ICT environment and Nigeria’s e-readiness status, a state of emergency – desirous of special resource and budgetary intervention to spur the top-priority initiatives which require immediate implementation.

 
The malware can also hide inside seemingly harmless programs and can create “backdoors” that enable hackers to re-enter the infected computer network at any time, Gostev said. So far, the spread of the Flame malware has been relatively small – less than 400 infections have been reported, about half of them coming from Iran, according to Kaspersky Lab.

 
Researchers say there does not appear to be any pattern to the organizations targeted. The malware infected computers belonging to government agencies, private companies, educational institutions and specific individuals. Many victims appear to have been targeted for their personal activities, rather than where they worked, according to researchers at the security firm Symantec.

 
The malware sends the stolen data to “command and control” servers being controlled by hackers in perhaps dozens of countries, researchers say. It can run on Microsoft Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems, the security firm McAfee says.

 
According to Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team, antivirus software cannot detect the Flame malware on a victim’s computer. The agency said it had created a tool to detect the malware and is sending out another tool to remove it from infected computers.

 
Experts say Flame is similar to Stuxnet and Duqu -two well-known malicious computer programs -because all three were based in the Middle East and targeted specific software vulnerabilities. Stuxnet is a complex computer worm that damaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2009 and 2010 by causing them to spin out of control. Experts deem it to be the most sophisticated cyber-weapon ever created.

 

The creators of Stuxnet remain unknown, though many have speculated it was designed by Israel and the United States. Duqu, which is believed to have been written by the same authors, was designed to spy on users in Middle Eastern countries by logging their keystrokes and stealing their computer files. It was intended to lay the groundwork for a cyber-attack against an industrial control system, according to Symantec.

 
Today it is Middle East that is being smoked out of the e-Super Highway. Tomorrow – which may be trillions of nano-seconds away – it maybe the turn of Africa/Nigeria to smell the pepper……no Hell! But there is still hope. And our only hope this century is the innovation and mastery of world-class Software creativity at all levels. And indeed, there are strong indications that Nigeria will get it right this century.

 

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