Are Americans less intelligent than Russians? Trend Micro security chief says yes

Are Americans dumber than Russians?

Wait. You don't have to rush to answer that, because a computer security company has done the hard work for you, and come to a definitive conclusion:

Russians are more intelligent.

Are Americans dumber than Russians?

In an interview with Antone Gonsalves of CSO, Tom Kellermann, chief cyber-security officer for Trend Micro, expands on his opinion of Russians being smarter than Americans:

"Russians are more intelligent than Americans. They're more intelligent because they think through every action they take to a point where it's incredibly strategic. They're operating at eight to 12 steps ahead on both the offensive and defensive side of the (chess) board."

(For the record, Tom Kellermann is himself an American. Trend Micro, meanwhile, is a computer security company that likes to present itself as being American, Japanese or Taiwanese, depending on who is asking.)

Now, I'm not so sure it's easy to paint an entire nation of people as being less intelligent than another. Historically, people have attempted to suggest that their race is somehow better than another, and it typically hasn't turned out that well.

And I don't think it's helpful (particularly with some of the loose and lazy accusations going on against Russian hackers right now) to suggest that one country's hackers are more dangerous than another.

Such lazy comparisons smell a little bit of security companies painting foreigners as "bogeymen", who should be especially feared. And why on earth would a company selling security solutions want to do such a thing?

The truth is that a hacker's nationality is irrelevant when it comes to assessing their capabilities. There are dumb and smart hackers all around the world.

ChessAnd, seeing as Trend Micro wants to talk about chess - let me pontificate on that too.

I'm a (rather poor) club-level chess player and I think being good at chess is not helped so much by intelligence, but by good memory, pattern recognition, visualisation, focus and (at the higher levels of the game) endurance.

For what it's worth, the strongest tournament in the history of chess is taking place right now in Saint Louis, where six of the nine top players in the world are competing.

They are Norwegian (the current world champion), Armenian, Italian, French, Bulgarian and (yes!) American.

So, there aren't any Russians playing in the tournament. Maybe Trend Micro would have us believe that they're all too busy hacking...

It's a terrific contest by the way, which you can watch for free online. The Italian is currently in the lead, having confidently beaten Magnus Carlsen of Norway last night.

I've spoken to thousands of journalists about computer security over the last 20+ years, and I know how easy it is to put my foot in my mouth and say something stupid without realising.

Additionally, things sometimes get misquoted or garbled by journalists who haven't properly transcribed the conversation, or got confused while trying to make a point clearer to their readers. Normally things work out pretty well, but when it does occur I prefer to think this is usually done by accident rather than because the media are trying to change a quote to make a story sexier.

But Antone Gonsalves is an experienced security journalist, and not the kind to get things wrong. On this occasion, my suspicion is that it was Kellermann saying something simply daft rather than his views being misrepresented.

PS. America's top grandmaster, Hikaru Nakamura, is sponsored by Red Bull and is regularly seen with a can by his board. Definitely a hacker then...

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9 Responses

  1. Coyote

    August 30, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    ad hominem.

    That's all there is to it. Consider that without the US's fear in the Cold War, and arpanet (a network of networks designed to withstand a nuclear attack), the Internet would not exist as it does. Furthermore, Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thopmson and Brian Kernighan (to name some) worked for AT&T Bell Labs and are the reason for C, Unix and so on, which are absolutely critical to the Internet. So… while I know what they might mean (above) it isn't all and it certainly is not helpful indeed. On the other hand, the survey asking Americans to locate Ukraine, recently, is very amusing. But so is Canada's even more recent explanation to Russia that This is not Russia. "This is Russia" on a map (something to that effect).

    Yes, it is pathetic quarrelling and petty insults, politics included (and you know, if we're going to discuss intelligence, then maybe they are on to something.. only problem is it is all politicians and country is indeed irrelevant). That goes for computer security experts too. And everything (as in nationality is irrelevant). Again, without the US the Internet would not exist. So yes, ad hominem. And it is a fallacy and it shows intelligence itself (more like lack thereof).

  2. Robert Epps

    August 30, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    The "Italian" is actually an American (born in Florida, grew up in New York), who moved to Europe to further his chess career and now plays for Italy.

    • Graham Cluley in reply to Robert Epps.

      August 30, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

      I stand corrected. Thanks!

      So, the "less intelligent" Americans are even better represented than we imagined at the chess championships. :)

      Now, if the Russians had left chess as their national sport rather than hacking… [fx: ducks]

  3. Roy

    August 30, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Graham,

    I have encountered gross generalizations about cultures and countries through my travels and 15 years in the tech support field. Most of the problems you write about are direct sloppiness of individuals just there for the paycheck. I don't profess to compete with you or the other writers and followers of security but I do follow the rules of common sense concerning any OS on the internet. I will say that Trendmicro is 12th in top ten reviews concerning cost and effectiveness, virus speed bump McAfee is 10th. I certainly will not buy either of these based on practical use with dismal results. I would ask Trendmicro if this man speaks for them, but as I stated above they are insignificant and not a customer choice I present.

    • Coyote in reply to Roy.

      August 31, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

      The problem with that, though, is this: computer security, and more specifically, the most significant, most critical vulnerability with security, is not computers, not phones, not anything except: humans. That includes being too trusting and also being too careless. it also involves mistakes – both as users and administrators – and that is not even considering the software used (e.g., you aren't the programmer for every single piece of software). This has been explained, many many times over the years, but that is the problem (contrast to sloppiness, carelessness, …). Same goes for non-computer security and other non-technical things. Humans. That is the problem.

      And yes, paycheck is definitely a valid remark. But… it isn't necessarily that simple, either (open source anyone ? Open source has benefits but… it isn't perfect, either, exactly because humans are not perfect!). Even source that isn't open source but is free still has this problem. Same with closed source. No getting around it.

      As for generalisations: well what to even suggest other than what I put it as: ad hominem. That's all it comes down in this. If they only go after nationality/culture/etc. and nothing else (or they're biased on such), then it isn't really valid and rather shows who exactly has the 'intelligence', 'experience' and anything like that. I should point out I don't exactly agree with America (or Americans view.. maybe some but most not), I don't associate or identify with them (if you will excuse the pun, generally speaking), but… I see things as they are which is: nothing is that black and white, when it comes to humans (or much of this world, aside from light itself!).

  4. RussianChess

    September 1, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I can't understand why you've choosen US Champ as an example of the most tough competition, but according to World Chess Federation out of 8 strongest chess candidates in the World in 2014 to challenge current World Champion there are 4 citizens of Russian Federation in that list (3 russians and 1 jew if talking about nationality): http://candidates2014.fide.com/standings/

  5. Derek

    September 1, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I believe that we have here is some fairly crude stereotyping. Rather than Russians being more intelligent than Americans, it might be more the case that the stereotypical view of Russians would present them as arch manipulators – an intellectual people of the 'old world' steeped in intrigue and plots. Precisely the same nonsense that results in villains in US movies always being European. Giving no credit to his own people, Mr Kellerman appears to have bought wholesale into the cartoon fallacy of the 'dumb' American.

  6. George Pajari

    September 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    One big reason Russian hackers are more effective is that the Russian authorities take no action against hackers unless they target other Russians. When you can practice all day long without any threat from the police, how much better is your game going to be? Even the Chinese government acts (occasionally) on foreign complaints of domestic hackers (non-PLA, of course).

    • Coyote in reply to George Pajari.

      September 3, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

      China has over the years executed (yes, as in the death penalty) people convicted of computer crime (e.g., bank related attacks over the wire). Don't kid yourself, China is very strict on it (although much more so when against them, that is true). As for spying/etc., well who doesn't (which country, that is) ? And other than that, IP means nothing for origin of attack so you cannot really suggest and be 100% certain, that the attack is state operated. I mean, I have access to servers (aside my own) in two different countries on the other side of the pond and I've in the past had servers in other countries, too. I don't use them for attacks (and I wouldn't attack with or without) but I could (and I have the experience, knowledge, … to manage – but I don't). And attackers will often do exactly that – bounce.

      Of course, I don't know about Russia nor do I care (location is irrelevant). I don't think they are more sophisticated than any other location. You have labs designed for this very purpose. And if that isn't enough, let's all remember that without the US DARPA the Internet as we know it would not exist. And the pioneers, the real pioneers from those days, are not only true hackers (original meaning) they're deemed demigods, too. This whole story is more like: propaganda and/or throwing dirt that could go either direction (and it does too, I might add). Here, let's put it a different way.

      This solves the entire problem here:

      Some humans are dumber than others but less dumb does not imply not dumb, does it ? Of course not. The real subject: people.

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