Technologically developing countries may hold the balance in whether a future internet is secure, but, according to a report by Microsoft (PDF), improving their infrastructure could do more short-term harm.
"Countries with a developing level of ICT may be unprepared to secure their ICT infrastructure commensurate with the increase in citizen use of computer systems, which provides greater opportunity for malware to spread unchecked.
Microsoft refers to these countries — those with typically lower economic and technological development — as seekers.
"Seeker countries are typically less mature in their security capabilities for newly deployed technologies, which explains why regional malware infection-rate increases are observed as digital access increases."
There is a point, however, at which countries manage to control the growth rate of malware and other online threats. For countries that are mature enough, increasing technological growth results in a decrease in online attacks.
"Increased internet access and more mature technological development is correlated with improvement in cybersecurity at the global level, [but] it has the opposite effect among seeker countries."
While improving the IT infrastructure in these seeker countries would result in an overall increase in global attacks, Microsoft said that limiting technological advances for these countries would be a mistake.
It said that helping them reach the tipping point would be critical to its long-term security posture and expanding its society.
"When a country crosses the tipping point, increased access ceases to encourage the growth of malware, and begins to reduce it. Improving digital access after that point correlates with improved cybersecurity — the effect observed in more technologically mature countries," Microsoft senior director for global security strategy and diplomacy Paul Nicholas said in a blog post.
It would also make seeker countries less attractive targets for criminals who know no jurisdictional boundaries.
"Increased cybersecurity also helps seeker countries better manage risks, both internally, for their governments and citizenry, and internationally, by helping to ensure that the new ICT investments of the seeker country do not become platforms for cybercrime," the report said.
What happens to these seeker countries will, according to Microsoft, affect the long-term future of the internet.