Expert Issues a Cyberwar Warning
ANDREW E. KRAMER and NICOLE PERLROTH
Published: June 3, 2012
MOSCOW — When Eugene Kaspersky, the founder of Europe’s largest antivirus company, discovered the Flame virus that is afflicting computers in Iran and the Middle East, he recognized it as a technologically sophisticated virus that only a government could create.
He also recognized that the virus, which he compares to the Stuxnet virus built by programmers employed by the United States and Israel, adds weight to his warnings of the grave dangers posed by governments that manufacture and release viruses on the Internet.
“Cyberweapons are the most dangerous innovation of this century,” he told a gathering of technology company executives, called the CeBIT conference, last month in Sydney, Australia. While the United States and Israel are using the weapons to slow the nuclear bomb-making abilities of Iran, they could also be used to disrupt power grids and financial systems or even wreak havoc with military defenses.
Computer security companies have for years used their discovery of a new virus or worm to call attention to themselves and win more business from companies seeking computer protection. Mr. Kaspersky, a Russian computer security expert, and his company, Kaspersky Lab, are no different in that regard. But he is also using his company’s integral role in exposing or decrypting three computer viruses apparently intended to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear program to argue for an international treaty banning computer warfare.
A growing array of nations and other entities are using online weapons, he says, because they are “thousands of times cheaper” than conventional armaments.
While antivirus companies might catch some, he says, only an international treaty that would ban militaries and spy agencies from making viruses will truly solve the problem.
The wide disclosure of the details of the Flame virus by Kaspersky Lab also seems intended to promote the Russian call for a ban on cyberweapons like those that blocked poison gas or expanding bullets from the armies of major nations and other entities.
And that puts the Russian company in a difficult position because it already faces suspicions that it is tied to the Russian government, accusations Mr. Kaspersky has constantly denied as he has built his business.
While Russian officials have not commented on the discovery of Flame, the Russian minister of telecommunications gave a speech, also in May, calling for an international cyberweapon ban. Russia has also pushed for a bilateral treaty with the United States.
The United States has agreed to discuss such a disarmament treaty with the Russians, but has also tried to encourage Russia to prosecute online crime, which flourishes in this country.
The United States has long objected to the Russian crusade for an online arms control ban. “There is no broad international support for a cyberweapon ban,” says James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This is a global diplomatic ploy by the Russians to take down a perceived area of U.S. military advantage.”
Russia, many security experts note, has been accused of using cyberwarfare in disputes with Estonia and wars in Georgia.Share