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OLPC and other Sub-Notebooks as a Weapon for African Cyber-Crime? Nope.

Fri, 02/08/2008 - 01:24 -- rprice

OLPC As I was sitting in a café here in London yesterday, I picked up the Guardian's Thursday Technology Section and saw this rather large story a few pages in - there is a picture of some cute African kids with XO laptops, but the headline read Crime fears as cheap PCs head for Africa

Initiatives such as the OLPC and the Classmate are intended to help bridge the digital divide. But security experts warn that there could be an unforeseen negative effect.

"There is the possibility of creating the largest botnet in the world," says Yuval Ben-Ithak of Finjan, a computer security company. This view is borne out by a recent report by F-Secure identifying Africa as one of the emerging cybercrime threats.

Sidebar: The tinyurl link was printed in the paper, but the original URL was way too long and difficult - these British kids understand how to use the tools. Hopefully, the service is letting them track how many people actually type in the URL so they can understand conversion rates? PLZ?

As to the connection with OLPC, that was completely the reporter's doing. I skimmed through the report, and there was no mention of cheap laptops. Example:

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, believes malware creation hotspots are defined by a number of socio-economic causes – particularly in terms of job opportunities.

"Within the last few years, Internet take-up in emerging markets has been phenomenal. For example, Brazil now has over two million Internet users," says Hypponen. "And coincidentally, since 2003, computer crime has really taken off in Brazil, China and the former Soviet countries."

"The trend is expected to continue and spread into areas such as Africa, India and Central America," predicts Hypponen. "This is partly due to the limited IT job prospects in these markets. People are developing sophisticated computer skills, but have limited opportunities to profit from them legally."

But the OLPC security guy they talked to, Ivan Krstic, easily squashed the possibility of OLPC's default software having any possibility of easily becoming a botnet. The reporter then counters that OLPC's are supposed to be able to run Windows XP, and that's not secure - BUT XP is like 7 years old now, and I think the number of vulnerabilities and possible back doors has been addressed so many times that new exploits will be fewer and farther between.

The problem is interesting, but in my opinion not believable. I'd like to get Erik Hersman on the phone to talk about it, but he appears to be out of the country right now as well, so I guess it has to wait.

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