Oil Husbands

My title is prompted by an article in the Ugandan Observer, which tells a sad tale—they are in fact a series of stories, connected by a common thread.

Oil is the central theme of Atmos Fear, and in between the Syrian war, the rise of ISIS, and the Saudi oil strategy, you may find yourself in a parallel universe when you read the book. As you would expect in a work of fiction, those three specific things don’t occur, but similar ones do—you’ll certainly relate to some of the consequences.

Another element of Atmos Fear is cyberwarfare, key to the geostrategic struggle that engages world powers. The Regin malware provides very clear evidence of how powerful such tools have become.

In the world of malware threats, only a few rare examples can truly be considered groundbreaking and almost peerless. What we have seen in Regin is just such a class of malware.

The quote is from the anti-virus company Symantec, and their technical paper reveals some fascinating aspects of the malware. It is both staged and modular—like Stuxnet, which targeted the Iranian nuclear program, a piece of the virus arrives, then another, until five stages are on your computer.

So sophisticated that Symantec is not even sure how many stages there really are, the Regin malware has been active since 2011.

So sophisticated that Symantec is not even sure how many stages there really are, the Regin malware has been active since 2011.

And since Regin is a RAT (Remote Access Trojan), tailored modules may be installed by the spy’s control—some targeted Exchange mail, some went for cellphone base stations, some for server software.

Think of it as a sophisticated digital mosquito. First comes the insertion of the proboscis, then the anticoagulant, then the drawing of blood, and finally exfiltration. Bear in mind that no one ever feels the mosquito bite, so detection is only possible at three stages: auditory, before the mosquito strikes, visual, while it is doing so, and post facto, when the wound swells.

Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed son. Where have you been, my darling young one?

Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed son? Where have you been, my darling young one? (Dylan, 1964. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall)

The origin of the Regin virus can be studied by analyzing the company it keeps. So let’s play a game. It’s called Word Association Football.

Pakistan? Inter Services Intelligence

Austria? OPEC, Atomic Energy Agency

Belgium? European Commission

Iran? Atomic bombs

Afghanistan? Taliban

India? Trade

Ireland? Megacorporates

Mexico? Drug cartels

Together, two nations have over half of the infections in the wild. The Russian Federation, with 28%, and Saudi Arabia, with 24%. Hmm…

As with some of the other nations, various words come to mind—but if I had to choose, I’d go for oil.

The world is full of alternatives to conventional oil extraction, including shale gas, nuclear, wind, and solar. The problem is that many such options, including the renewables, developed around a particular price point per barrel of oil, and the twin notions that fluctuations reflect wars and climate, and that the long-term trend is up.

National budgets take the price of oil into account: for consumers, it affects economic growth and consumer spending, and for producers, revenue—for instance, the Russian budget is currently built around a $90 breakeven point, but the oil price today is below seventy dollars.

Good news for consumers worldwide, but not so hot for competing sectors such as shale or wind energy.

Good news for consumers worldwide, but not so hot for competing sectors such as shale or wind energy.

Saudi Arabia has a war chest of seven hundred-fifty billion dollars—roughly the same as its GDP—to do battle with the alternatives. The Saudis have persuaded the Gulf States that it is in their interest to go to war on this one.

Gas prices have been tumbling, reflecting the increase in capacity. Consumers applaud—once again, no one visibly gives a shit about climate change, they just enjoy the easy ride. And the Saudis don’t bother, it’s all desert already anyhow.

This climate change stuff is all well and good, but it’s not that big a problem right now, when compared to the economy, unemployment, or my surplus cash. Here’s a new acronym that sums it up: NILT (Not In my LifeTime), so why worry?

Where will this all take us? Lower oil prices stimulate economic growth, so they will be lavishly praised—we are supposedly in an El Niño year, and storms have already wreaked havoc, with winter still three weeks away.

But what happens when market forces do away with much of the infrastructure developed for alternative energies? I suspect oil prices will rise again, this time to record heights.

Nations like Nigeria, Angola, and Venezuela will be clamoring for that moment, perhaps even begging. And once more the West will be captive, enslaved by its own voracity, while the Mid-East nations husband supply.

Big pictures have consequences on small people. Two women, carrying children on their backs, pitched camp in Hoima, a town in Uganda blessed by an oil boom. The pair wanted to speak at a workshop on women’s emancipation.

Their husbands settled with the oil magnates and were compensated for their plots of land. The women weren’t consulted or involved, and their menfolk simply left town when they got their money, sharing none of it.

One of the women explained her husband was now living elsewhere with a much younger girl—he’d left nothing except tragedy behind—empty hopes and hungry kids.

In the West there are a things a woman might do. In Africa you just pitch camp and die.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

One final note to anyone who has tried to buy The India Road as a digital book. The Kindle edition is once again available, and costs under five dollars—and I did not surrender to the editor’s requirements for perpetuity.


One Response to “Oil Husbands”

  1. Lourenço Says:

    Kaspersky has quite a good whitepaper on Regin:


    This includes a nice histogram of samples timestamps. Of course that faking this information is probably trivial, but If this is nation-state funded and operated it would be most likely Western Europe. Our dear friends in GCHQ strike again ? 😉 And some of the elements of the regin platform date back to 2003… 11 years of info explotation! what a goldmine…

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