Information Warfare: September 20, 2004

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It turns out that, although China has put a lot of effort into creating a cyberwar force capable of launching attacks over the Internet, their own computers are already overrun with viruses and worms. A recent government survey found that 87.9 percent of Chinese PCs connected to the Internet were infected during the last year, and most were still infected. While the United States is regarded as the one nation most dependant on the Internet, it is also the country with the largest amount of effort dedicated to protecting its PCs from infection by malware (viruses, worms, Trojans and the like.) China, on the other hand, has developed an outlaw mentality when it comes to software, so most users have pirated operating systems and applications on their machines. While there are pirated versions of anti-virus software available, using this kind of protection is not popular. 

Protecting PCs from the Internet borne nasties has become more difficult as Microsoft, the creator of Windows, the most widely pirated operating system in China, cracks down on people using pirated software. It's becoming more difficult to get operating system updates that increase protection against viruses. China is trying to get around this by using Linux, a free operating system that is subject to far less Internet attack. But Linux does not have as much software available for it, and users are reluctant to abandon Windows, and all the neat games and other software that only runs on Windows powered computers. 

The most serious aspect of all this is the number of government computers that are using Windows, and are infected. The government has found that switching to Linux is difficult, as there are not enough computer experts to carry this out. Microsoft Windows is much easier to install, and maintain, than Linux. Many more Chinese computer manufacturers are shipping PCs with Linux installed. But Microsoft has a huge head start, and  only about two percent of the PCs shipped in China last year had Linux on them. 

So, while in theory, China could solve a lot of its virus problems by switching to Linux, in practice, few Chinese, either commercial, home or government users, want to abandon Windows. This makes Chinas PCs (over fifty million of them) more vulnerable to attack via the Internet than those in the United States, or most other Western nations.

Chinese hackers are the source of many of the viruses and worms that rapidly spread worldwide. But these nasty little concoctions do more damage, proportionately, in China than they do in the United States. China does not quite know what to do about it. China has encouraged hackers, as a way to provide the country with a potent cyberwar weapon. But China has not developed defenses, and even lacks cyber-savvy police investigators to crack down on the malign hackers in their midst. Doctor Frankenstein would understand. 

 


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