Afterword

ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Are viruses clogging Bhutan's information highways?

It seems that the number of "healthy" computers in Bhutan can be counted on a single hand. Many computers that I'm running into show clear symptoms of a sick machine, some of them so terminally ill that the only cure is the IT equivalent of a brain transplant, i.e., re-formating the hard disk. Most computer viruses spread when you insert an infected USB drive (also known as pen drive) into your computer. Once infected, your computer starts to slow down or otherwise behave strangely. If you have good and up-to-date anti-virus software installed, this can sometimes protect your computer.

In addition to slowing down your computer and otherwise being a major nuisance, malware (MALicious softWARE, such as viruses, torjan horses, and more) can also use your Internet connection. For example, Trojan horses can steal your files and passwords and send them over the Internet back to the hackers. Rootkits - another type of malware - often use your computer to attack other computers. All this takes place while you're online, and most likely you won't even notice it - although you might be annoyed by the apparently long time it takes for your Facebook wall to load.

Given Bhutan Telecom's consumer broadband prices - about Nu 160 per 1GB - a virus that uses a mere 0.5kB/second will cost you about Nu. 200 a month, assuming the infected computer is connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. If you have several infected computers sharing your Internet connection, your bill will be even higher. My advice: Obviously, always try to keep your computer clean. However, If you suspect a computer infection, turn off the broadband modem or computer(s) when not in use.

And on a national level: Given the increasing number of Internet-connected computers, the poor "health" of so many of them, and the finite international bandwidth, what price - in productivity and otherwise - are we paying for all those bandwidth-gulping computer viruses?

2 comments:

  1. Hi, this is an issue close to my heart. I am teaching on the Bachelor of Public Health Program at RIHS Thimphu and we swap USB sticks between computers a lot - with virus detection alarms a regular occurrence. As an infectious disease epidemiologist (accustomed to studying biological viruses) I was surprised by the number of viruses circulating in Thimphu given that everyone seemed to have antivirus software. This contrasts with working in Vietnam where we came across many computer viruses but felt this was due to the lack of virus protection on computers in that country.

    After a brief discussion of this anomaly with Gailit we came to the following conclusions (based on infectious disease and computer virus epidemiology)that explain the higher rate of virus attack in Bhutan compared to Australia or USA:
    - the overall prevalence of wild computer viruses is higher in Bhutan (hence even if having some protection there are just more out there!)
    - there are fewer well protected corporate intranets.
    - virus software is often out of date (kind of like having an inferior vaccine.
    - there may be more sharing of computers in Bhutan.
    -there may be more mixing between infected and "partially protected" computers in Bhutan.
    - Gailit added that fewer computers have latest service packs installed - increasing vulnerability.

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  2. Not sure about Vietnam, but I think the high levels of trust and the lack of privacy in Bhutan are also contributing factors to the abundance of computer viruses. In many countries people won't let others get near their laptops. Here USBs, passwords, laptops, email, all are shared. Trust is a wonderful thing and a essential component of GNH, but it becomes problematic when your USB has been infected by a virus from Pakistan.

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