Economic Threat for Vietnam from Computer Virus Epidemic

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Secure, fast and affordable connectivity will be vital for Vietnam’s continued growth

By Michael Mudd

Aug. 9 – A recent report by a Vietnamese computer security company indicated that 93 percent of all computers in the country experienced at least one virus infection over the last year.  This does not bode well with Vietnam’s goal to become an IT outsourcing powerhouse within the next 10 years.

Dr. Le Doan Hop, Minister of Information and Communications and Standing Vice-Chairman of the NSCICT, is charged with driving this forward through the ‘National Strategy on Transforming Vietnam into an Advanced ICT Country’ which was approved by the Prime Minister in September 2010.

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Through this, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) security will be addressed by the setting up of the National Center for Network Security Technology. The budget for the project is US$42 million allotted over the next decade. But is this enough, being less than US$5 million a year for a country with a population of over 90 million? According to Network Box, a Hong Kong based Network security company that tracks threats in real time, Vietnam is regularly cited as one of the top three sources of malware distribution globally during the business day. This would indicate the problem is with compromised business computer systems being harnessed as part of a global botnet by international criminals.

This should be of concern as Vietnam’s bandwidth, whilst showing a year on year increase, has not resulted in better performance for customers. Even a relatively small percentage of global malware distribution can, in fact, consume a large proportion of the bandwidth – since the data sent is constant – slowing down the Internet in Vietnam. This causes economic losses, as customers are paying for this but do not get the performance as needed, causing them to have to buy more bandwidth.

According to figures from Akamai’s State of the Internet report, global average Internet connection speeds have increased by 5 percent year on year in 2012. They said that Vietnam had an average speed of 1.471 Mbps, about the same as Indonesia, but lower than the average level of 2.9 Mbps in the world. Yet, a year earlier, Vietnam’s average speed was 1.7Mbps – meaning new bandwidth has either not kept up with demand or has been eaten up by cyber criminals.

A 2013 report from Singapore on leased line pricing for companies in 2012 reported that despite overall price decreases in the region, Indonesia and Malaysia have now been joined by Vietnam as having the highest pricing, with the cost for some lines being up to three times that of Thailand. Bandwidth is therefore an expensive resource to squander supporting criminal activity. Better protection of this economic asset therefore makes sense.

The March 2013 report cited above from Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Centre (BKAV) said that the virus problem is getting worse, not better. BKAV said that 93 percent of Vietnam’s PCs became infected at least once during 2012, up 5 percent compared to the previous year. BKAV also said that the main factor attributed to why PCs in Vietnam were infected was cracked or unlicensed (pirated) software.  Additionally, in July 2013 BKAV said that they had identified the specific virus that was turning the victim computers into botnet “zombies,” allowing them to be taken over by criminals for malware distribution globally.

According to an industry group, the Business Software Alliance, 81 percent of PCs in Vietnam used illegal or pirated software in 2012, compared to the average of 60 percent for the rest of the region. Whilst a slight improvement over previous years (it’s by no means the highest – Indonesia is worse), when compared to Vietnam’s economic peers, such as Thailand (72 percent) or Malaysia (55 percent), the figure is unacceptably high. This has to improve if Vietnam wants to attract inward investment into the knowledge industries, in particular as we move into the era of Cloud Computing.

Secure, fast and affordable connectivity will be vital for Vietnam’s continued growth.

The comprehensive Law on Information Security, which has just closed for public comment, seeks to update the laws applicable to Internet crime and online security. These moves are part of a far-reaching plan to raise the profile of the country’s Internet technology sector, both in manufacturing of hardware and software development. It is also hoped the plan will show its commitment to combating cyber-attacks that might originate in Vietnam, a criticism that has dogged the sector over recent years.

To combat the above issues a combination of IT security education at schools aimed in particular at younger people, SMEs and public sector education with incentives to install anti-virus programmes (and keep them updated!), combined with robust enforcement of the current IP laws on software piracy, would be good places to start.

Mike Mudd is the chief representative of the Open Computing Alliance (OCA) in the Asia Pacific region. The OCA seeks to encourage productivity, growth and employment through new opportunities arising from the Internet and Cloud Computing. He is also the Chair of Amcham Hanoi’s IT, IP and Telecom committee since 2006, and lived and worked in Vietnam for several years in the mid 1990’s. He is also the Senior Partner of Asia Policy Partners LLC, a Hong Kong based technology consultancy. He may be contacted at: mmudd@opencomputingalliance.org.

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