Trojan Phones: The New New Virus Vehicle

SD Card

SD Card
SD Card
Imagine buying a new SD card for your digital camera. You go into the store, find a nice 32GB Class 6 SD card at the right price and take it home. It’s sealed in one of those plastic display cards that takes remarkably sharp objects to open them. It’s new, and perfect.

You are very happy because for just a small premium, the card came pre-formatted for your brand of digital camera. There’s nothing to do but insert the card, and take pictures to your hearts content.

After a wonderful night of celebration with thirty pictures of you and your friends in compromising, but Facebook appropriate poses, you decide to download the pictures to your computer, crop them and upload them to Facebook. It’s a behavior you have perfected, a perfunctory skill that requires almost no thought and no time.

As you slide the SD card into your card-reader, there’s no way for you to know that along with your digital pictures, you are also downloading a highly virulent Trojan horse that is about to make your entire hard drive available to a ring of foreign hackers. Before you have cropped your first picture, the virus has phoned home and a completely automated program is combing your disk for account numbers and passwords.

Without so much as a beep from your virus checker, your bank account is being emptied. And, just before you start to upload your pictures to Facebook, the virus erases your entire hard drive along with itself. Evidence destroyed … the perfect computer crime.

Science fiction? Nope, just another version of what happened last week to Vodaphone HTC. Panda Security found a bunch of malware that shipped inside the Android-based smartphone. The virus on the phone was specially crafted to attack the PC the phone was connected to during normal synching, charging and backup procedures.

New technology has the capacity to enable behavioral changes. It can empower new kinds of work, play, education and, of course, crime.

Computer viruses are appropriately named. They exhibit many of the attributes of their biological counterparts. They are born, they eat, they excrete, they multiply and they die. They can also lay dormant for long periods of time.

As we transition through the early days of the super-digital age, we are going to find that cyber-criminals are as crafty as their offline counterparts. We are also going to find out that the rule of law and societal norms, which govern the world of atoms, has no analog in the digital domain. There is no police force in cyber-space. There is no army in a C-class. There is no government for the 400 million citizens of Facebook (there isn’t even a customer service phone number). There is no law online.

This is a very hard idea for physical people who live in a physical world to grapple with; although, the name “virus” does give us a way to think about defense. You don’t fight a disease with a firearm, you fight it with lifestyle and a course of treatments that may include drugs or physical therapy, etc. Which begs for the question, if we cannot govern the Internet with laws, can we fight for survival on the Internet with something analogous to healthy lifestyles and courses of treatments? It may be a better way to approach the governance of communities of interest in the Information Age.

If, for example, central governments are ineffective in battling small organized groups of motivated online criminals, can we protect ourselves? Will we need to quarantine new our new hardware for a week while we see if it is safe to add to our home networks? If I purchase a tainted piece of hardware at a retailer, should they be held responsible if something bad happens? Should the manufacturer? Tainted SD cards may sound strange, but if this happened to you (and it easily could) and your whole home or local area network was infected and destroyed … how would you recover?

We are probably a very short time away from a major Trojan scheme that will enter our networks via a previously un-thought of way. This is not a FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) issue. It’s not a scare tactic, it’s not “the sky is falling,” it’s just reality. And, as the aphorism goes, “the time to sharpen your claws is not when you hear the hunter’s horn.” Shelly Palmer

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About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, co-founder of Metacademy, and the CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and CNBC and writes a popular daily business blog. He’s the Co-Host of the award-winning podcast Techstream with Shelly Palmer & Seth Everett and his latest book, Blockchain - Cryptocurrency, NFTs & Smart Contracts: An executive guide to the world of decentralized finance, is an Amazon #1 Bestseller. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.

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