Over the past days we've heard in the media that the NSA has infected at least 50.000 computers worldwide with digital sleeper agent software, as Techcrunch puts it. Obviously this has created a lot of outrage across the industry and also in the non-technical media. But despite all the outrage nobody really commented that actively infecting computers is by an order of magnitude worse from an ethical point of view than anything we have heard about the NSA's doings in recent months.
Listening passively on transmission links and harvesting data is one thing (which is already bad enough by itself), but infecting 50.000 computers with spyware is quite quite another. And I wonder who those 50.000 computers belong to!? Did the NSA really find that many terrorists out there? Somehow I doubt it. As if it isn't already bad enough that companies and individuals have to fight criminals trying to infect their PCs with malware that do all sorts of things like stealing passwords, extorting money, and so on. No, now we also have to defend ourselves against nation states doing similar things on a similar scale!?
It makes me wonder when this will go from accusation to proof? What it would take is the code or the executable of the malware and a link back to it's origin. With that in hand it wouldn't take long to actually find the malware in practice (unless all copies destroy themselves without leaving a trace). And then imagine the malware is found on computers of governments and private companies around the world. This is the point when the abstract becomes personalized. And when you look at what happened when the German Chancelor found out her phone calls were listened to you get an idea what is likely to happen in this case. Is it really possible to cover up 50.000 infections?
It really depresses me that a nation goes that far... And while we are at it: What makes us think it is only one nation who thinks it's a good idea to do such things?