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[] Attack of the Cyber-Terror Studies,

Herrliche Ueberschrift. :-)

Attack of the Cyber-Terror Studies

By Jay Heiser
Posted: 11/07/2002 at 10:44 GMT

Last month's Business Software Alliance report on cyber security (pdf)  
concluded that cyber terrorism was going to be really serious, so
everyone should protect themselves by giving more money to the members
of the Business Software Alliance. How did it reach this conclusion?  
No, not by using professional intelligence experts or foreign affairs
specialists, but by asking corporate security officers for their

OK, so it's hardly the first time that a commercial interest group has
conducted such a flawed study. But it is disappointing to see
professional academic researchers following the same pattern of asking
security experts if they feel under-appreciated, and then claiming
that their unanimous affirmative response is categorical proof that
security expenditures are too low.

Created at Dartmouth College, the report Law Enforcement Tools and
Technologies for Investigating Cyber Attacks (reg req'd) starts with
an assumption that is not substantiated within the document: cyber
attacks are a significant threat. It implicitly suggests that because
the digital forensic tools are so bad, law enforcement will be unable
to protect us from these attacks. The explicit conclusion is that
there must be a national agenda for the research and creation of
law-enforcement specific investigation tools.

Typical questions posed to law enforcement investigators read "In
general, I completely satisfied with the tools I have available
for..." It's hard to imagine anyone choosing 'strongly agree,' when
asked if they are completely satisfied with any software, let alone
forensic tools. Questions on the perceived shortcomings in
investigation tool features had 'lack of law enforcement-specific
features' as one of the possible responses, and it should not be
surprising that this was a popular answer.

Any system administrator can sympathize with the difficulties in
analysing log files, but it is hard to imagine what features would be
useful to law enforcement that haven't already been considered by the
dozens of startups that have yet to provide a useful log consolidation
and reporting tool for corporate use. All investigations-both physical
and cyber-include long and boring manual examination of evidence. We
didn't need this report to explain that the analysis of system logs is

It's easy to envision the staff at Dartmouth brainstorming topics for
interesting research topics that would help put their new Institute
for Security Technology Studies on the map. Did they deliberately
design a survey that would inevitably conclude such research topics
were vital to national defence? This report, bankrolled by the US
Department of Justice, gives that impression. It will now be used as
evidence to justify requesting additional public money on security
software, an area where 25 years of government sponsorship has
resulted in virtually no useful technology.

Like all the other self-serving surveys, much of the substance of this
report is reasonable. Forensic experts recognise that better tools
would be a big help, but few would claim that the relative immaturity
of today's tools is 'one of the critical public security and national
security issues of the 21st century'. It was always clear that digital
forensic products could withstand improvement, but nowhere does this
report ever offer any evidence that the future costs of cybercrime (or
as they prefer to refer to it 'cyber attacks') will be unacceptably
high without immediately ploughing more public funds into R&D.

Why should we accept the conclusions within studies such as this and
the BSA report, when the studies themselves are so contrived?  
Sponsored by organizations which want to obtain more of our money, and
eagerly devoured by reporters who would rather titillate than educate,
flawed 'research' doesn't help decision makers better understand what
needs to be spent to provide an appropriate level of protection.

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