Human viruses attack human beings while software viruses attack electronic gadgets like computers, mobile phones, TVs and all devices that have software. Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, one area that has proven to be of immense value to our survival is our communication systems.
What if the Coronavirus was a piece of software that attacked our communication systems and devices? It would have disrupted how we learnt of the disease and communication on how to prevent the disease from spreading. If the reaction to such a software viral attack is the same, the impact will be devastating.
How did the world react?
We reacted by closing our borders, shutting ourselves in and shutting all others out. Starting from the US, to China, Europe and the rest of the world, we banned flights and shut our borders to contain those who were already in and prevented imported cases from coming in. That is what a firewall does in a network. It blocks everything and only allows things under control to go through.
This was not a matter of developed vs developing nations. Traditionally, Africans and nationals of developing nations have largely been kept out of Europe when they tried to set foot on the continent in their search for greener pastures. We’ve all seen the images on the shores of Italy and Spain.
When the pandemic struck and it became a matter of life and death, we all reacted the same way and closed our borders. Ghana for example closed its borders; two Italians who came in by air were returned. A German and Italian who were trying to smuggle themselves into Ghana by land were also caught and returned. The pandemic has been a levelling factor and shown true human nature. Why didn’t Ghana just test these foreigners at the border, quarantine them for 14 days and leave them to go about their business? We did not. We are all the same at the core.
If the virus was electronic, and transmitted through Wi-Fi, Copper or Fibre broadband from device to device, breaking down defences, wreaking havoc, deleting data and destroying systems to death, every nation would have shut their Internet and data connections to other nations. That would have been a really scary scenario but what would have been the impact?
Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Alibaba would have all been restricted to America and China and probably a few other countries who have datacentres located in them (friends of America & China). Online education via Skype, Gmail and YouTube would have been cut off from billions. Corporate meetings, social gatherings, church services, conferences and webinars hosted in one country would not be available in another country. WhatsApp, Instagram, Netflix, WeChat and Facebook Messenger would not be available for sharing funny videos, images, and cheap international calls.
A global software virus situation is a really serious scenario which nations must not take lightly. A truly independent nation should have control of its communication systems from the physical infrastructure, all through to the applications. The fundamentals like data connectivity, data storage and data retrieval should exist and be able to operate whether the global Internet works or not. There has to be a rethink of the move towards cloud based solutions hosted by multinational companies who may cut us all off if they are forced to choose between financial gain and human survival.
The largest cloud datacentres are located in just a few developed countries and the rest of the world is transferring their communication systems and data to these datacentres. This virtualization drive creates centralized data hotspots that are controlled by a few companies. Why can’t the centralized data be owned by nations and interconnected just like the way telephone systems currently function?
In telephony, every country has a country code and network (e.g. 353 for Ireland, 233 for Ghana, etc) and countries interconnect with each other and can exchange calls or block calls at will. Similarly, every country should have its own datacentre and interconnect to form regional clusters, continental clusters or global clusters. A few multinational companies should NOT be able to hold the world to ransom in a software viral pandemic. I believe multinational cloud companies have the technology to lead the building of national, regional, continental and global datacentres.
We need to be well prepared for any future scenarios whether the viruses are natural, artificially created, or pieces of software. Humanity should behave in a humane manner and value all lives equally and not think in terms of silos called national boundaries. However, within those inevitable national boundaries, communication systems must be able to function independently.
The author is a Ghanaian IT/Telecom consultant based in Ireland.
(Member, Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana)