A cat and mouse game with the government: catch the bad guy if you can, Regierung

A cat and mouse game: catch the bad guy if you can

In today’s connected world, governmental agencies spend tax money investigating new ways to breach software created to protect people, cyber-threats are getting more and more complex due to the diversity of devices, and users are less and less interested in protecting their privacy. Who’s the bad guy in this story and how can security vendors stay a step ahead of hackers?

Where there’s money, there’s hackers. How does this apply to government issued malware?

Where there’s private data and intelligence, hackers supported by public institutions will also operate.

In order for some governmental agencies to be fully operational, they depend on the amount of information they can obtain and analyze regarding certain groups of citizens. When information is power, privacy boundaries tend to be considered more flexible by people who feed on it.

Being a German company, Avira adheres to the German law and fully respects its very strict private data regulations. As opposed to some other companies in the industry, no institution can force us to reveal any customer data. We don’t offer any backdoors to support malware authors or any government for that matter.

Thus, discovering alternative methods they might be researching to catch us off-guard is unsurprising. If anything, it’s further proof that we’re not making any hacker’s job easy. At the end of the day, this even helps us to keep improving our security when faced with breaking-in methods and techniques.

Forget Vault 7. How about Stuxnet, Regin, GrayFish, Eye of Sauron…?

The CIA accounts for the largest share of the annual US intelligence budget, and a major chunk of it is dedicated to cybersecurity. The UK government announced its intention to spend at least £1,9bn on Cybersecurity efforts in 2017, while the US government is estimated to have spent $19bn in 2016. According to the latest Wikileaks documents, released under the code name Vault 7, some of these efforts imply finding vulnerabilities in popular software and devices or working on ways to breach popular antivirus software. The usefulness of these activities? They are hoping to win access to the private information of millions of security conscious users.

Looking at the leaked documents which have been published until now, their hackers have not gotten very far with their techniques, despite increasing efforts and a continuously growing budget.

At the same time, government issued malware is not news, as it is regularly reported by the media. Some of the methods are new, but the goal is usually the same: spying on people to capture their private information. We have repeatedly warned our users of the dangers our security experts identified vis-a-vis famous exploits like Stuxnet, Regin, GrayFish or the Eye Of Sauron.

Privacy first

We are continuously developing new detection features and protection layers, using various technologies as artificial intelligence and cloud-based sandboxing technology to classify and block the latest threats in real-time. There is a reason why we were just awarded “Product of the year” by the independent test lab AV-Comparatives, after they tested us against different samples of malware throughout the whole year. Besides, all of our products gear towards your security.

An eye to the future: Internet of Things or Internet of Threats?

The diversity and rapid evolution of the IoT landscape will only complicate things. We believe there will be even more targets for attacks due to the quickly increasing amount of connected devices (Smart TVs, Smartphones, Fitness-Trackers, Cars, Smoke detectors etc.). The combination of different hardware and software versions allows risks to grow exponentially, based on the number of devices attributed to any given household.

For various reasons ranging from lack of awareness to costs, some of the IoT vendors refuse to focus on adding secure software to their products. Maintenance and software updates for numerous devices were also discontinued a few years after the product was launched, enabling vulnerabilities discovered thereafter to remain unaddressed.

According to Statista, an estimated 12.86 billion IoT units will be in use in the consumer segment by 2020. Security vendors have to step up their game and make sure their users will not become easy prey to hackers or governmental agencies trying to get ahold of their private data.

Good cop, bad cop?

In order for governmental cyber-security experts to be part of the good guys, potential vulnerabilities must be directly reported to the affected vendors. Keeping them secret and using them for other purposes means that they leave room for any given liability to eventually be abused by the bad guys, thus becoming their allies.

These vulnerabilities appear to be exploited using the same methods as the ones implemented by malware authors. The latter hide their activities and intentionally lay false trails in order to prevent being tracked down. Identifying the bad guys we’re facing on a daily basis is becoming increasingly challenging by the day.

This post is also available in: German

Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.