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[] Cyberwar, what is it good for? Virtually nothin',

"Motherboard of all Battles" - hihi. Eine köstliche Anspielung auf
Saddam Husseins "Mother of All Battles" von 1991. 
(Die neue Mega-Bombe, die die USA am Montag in Florida getestet haben -
21.000 Pfund TNT - , heisst offiziell "Massive Ordnance Air Blast"/MOAB,
wird aber von den Amis auch "Mother of All Bombs" genannt.)


Cyberwar, what is it good for? Virtually nothin'


Thursday, March 6, 2003

In 1917, U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson wasn't thinking of cyberspace when
he said: "The first casualty, when war comes, is truth." But he might as
well have.

The U.S. administration, champing at the bit to invade Iraq, has issued
an unprecedented barrage of warnings about digital warfare, raising
fears that foreign hackers might target vulnerable networks.

It's nothing new: In 1998, U.S. journalist James Adams wrote a book
called The Next World War, which revealed the Pentagon was preparing
defences against enemy programmers who might use the Internet to shut
down hydroelectric generators, paralyze the armed forces, destroy giant
corporations and post silly messages on people's Web sites.

No doubt this is a possibility; it remains a distant probability,
however, if only because terrorists have yet to do these things even
though they obviously have had technological smarts to do so for some

And there were only 10 documented cyberattacks on U.S. and British
targets on Feb. 17, the day of massive worldwide anti-war protests that
many security people warned would also be a nice day for cyberterrorism.

More likely, Washington's warnings are an attempt to deflect attention
away from the U.S. military's own high-tech efforts to bring Iraq to its
digital knees in a Motherboard of all Battles.

The emptiness of much of the fear mongering is visible in the National
Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, a list of "policy initiatives" issued by
the Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security.

The guidelines have no teeth; surely they would have been given some
legislative bite if Washington really believed in the imminence of a

The current overheated rhetoric is enough to distort corporate

While most CEOs would like to believe that their corporate secrets, in
the wrong hands, would be capable of damaging entire economies, most
companies have to admit they are not really juicy enough to be targeted
by terrorists.

Still, one can't be cavalier in this atmosphere. Investor confidence is
at stake. Corporate bosses must ask whether their systems are reasonably

Should they increase spending on security? Can they trust their security
outsourcers? Do they in fact need an upgrade?

The economy is still not healthy enough for most corporations to go on a
network security spending spree. Especially since there have been no
reports of Iraq-related cyberwar incidents.

Nothing has brought the distorted atmosphere into sharper focus than the
debate that has just broken out between two leading cybersecurity

British-based mi2g Ltd., digital-risk specialists and makers of "bespoke
security architecture," squared off against the Internet Security Threat
Report released late last year by U.S. security specialist Symantec

Symantec had reported that, aside from digital worms, the rate of
attacks on corporate networks over a six-month period in 2002 had
actually dropped 6 per cent from the previous six-month period.

For its part, mi2g countered that Symantec was calculating attacks only
on those networks protected by Symantec's own security products -- the
implication being that it is in Symantec's marketing interests that the
number of attacks be low, and preferably falling.

As though Symantec were trying to prove that criticism correct, it then
released another new product, called the DeepSight Threat Management
System, which Symantec describes in near-military terms as a "unique
early warning system [that] provides a comprehensive bird's-eye view of
global Internet attacks."

Using different measuring tools, mi2g reckoned that during the same
period, there was in fact a 229 per cent increase in verifiable overt
digital attacks worldwide in 2002, rising steadily each month from 2,877
in January to 14,327 in December.

These are scary numbers. With digital assaults more than doubling over
the year, then perhaps James Adams' book was right after all when it
claimed that the next world war would be fought by geeks.

And mi2g bolsters that fear by pointing at its own Security and
Intelligence Products and Systems database, which has counted more than
150,000 attacks by 6,500 hacker groups.

But let's wait a minute.

Chief executive officers keeping score should note that even in mi2g's
frightening reckoning, Canada ranked a miserable seventh in overall
digital attacks last year with 2,642, well behind the United States
(32,434), Brazil, Britain, Germany, Italy and France.

Brazil in second place? Italy in fifth?

If mi2g's calculations are at all accurate, then we have to conclude
that there is little correlation between digital attacks and the current
fearful atmosphere generated by the threat of a war with Iraq.

More interesting is one statistic on which mi2g and Symantec agree: More
than half of recorded digital attacks have been the result of misuse and
abuse of networks by employees.

Put all together, the reports from mi2g and Symantec suggest two things:
Corporate network security is threatened more by internal incompetence,
disgruntled employee vengeance or simple snooping than it is by
international terrorism or domestic vandalism; and that now, more than
ever, chief executive officers and their chief technology officers must
maintain cool heads and be in constant consultation with each other
while so many security experts and even government agencies are
inflating the risks of cyberterrorism.

Balancing corporate spending restraints while being urged to increase
network security is a difficult task for corporations to accomplish,
especially in times of economic distress and international uncertainty.

So now it falls to the guardians of cyberspace to prevent truth from
being the first casualty in cyberwar. 

Visit the e-insider page at for Report on Business
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