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[infowar.de] Cyber war, paper tiger
POSTED AT 1:50 PM EDT Friday, April 11
Cyber war, paper tiger
Globe and Mail Update
Reporters hunting sensational high-tech stories, security boffins with
services to sell, marketing mavens specializing in overstatement and
politicians anxious to control the taffy-pull that is the World Wide Web
all warned that military action against Iraq would include cyber war.
Opponents of the U.S.-led forces, we were told, would converge on the Net,
It didn?t happen.
There was no serious spike in denial-of-service attacks, hacking of Web
pages, computer viruses or disinformation campaigns from abroad, most
security companies reported. As a target, the Web barely noticed the war.
And of course no one preaching paranoia four weeks ago is going to go into
print in a fit of breast-beating to retract the warnings; if there?s one
thing the high-tech industry loathes, it is its own tendency to pillory
people who predict poorly.
Worse, it was a pro-U.S. cyber terrorist who grabbed the biggest
headlines. Some vandal with a limited imagination hacked into Internet
routers and placed a ?redirect? for the Arabic and freshly launched
English pages of the Al-Jazeera satellite TV network?s Web pages, already
plagued with their own technical problems and an inability to handle the
volume of viewers. Visitors were sent instead to a site displaying a U.S.
flag and a pro-U.S. slogan. Since nothing at Al-Jazeera itself had been
touched, all it took was a removal of the ?redirect? and all was well
again within hours.
This was cyber war?
Another incident that received some attention was an April Fool?s prank, a
story that claimed a virus had been smuggled into Iraq in a printer and
was timed to mangle Iraqi communications as the cruise missiles started
whining overhead. Still another fake story claimed U.S. Special Forces had
dug up a fibre-optic cable and somehow stuffed a virus into it, crashing
the hapless country?s air-defence computer system.
The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been reported to
say that 100 countries have cyber war capabilities. A hundred countries?
Would that include Finland, Burma and the Ivory Coast? Matthew Devost,
president of the U.S.- based Terrorism Research Centre and owner of the
Terrorism.com Web site and an authority on the kinds of things we should
really worry about in cyberspace, acknowledges that such a statement is
useless; he says it "provides very little information for private
companies and critical infrastructure providers trying to gauge the true
cyber threats against their systems."
Though the FBI had issued dire warnings of a surge in cyber hacking by
pimply-faced anti-American keyboard jockeys, one known attack happened: A
group of Pakistanis defaced the Pentagon?s Defence Test and Evaluation
Service Web site. It did not get much press. In fact, the number of
attacks actually went down slightly after the war began, the anti-hysteria
Web site Vmyths.com reported, suggesting hackers on both sides were glued
more to CNN, Al-Jazeera and newspapers than to their own monitors.
Let?s put this into perspective: Much more damage was inflicted on the
Internet in a time of peace a couple of years ago by a Montreal teenager
called Mafia Boy than during the Iraq war by all the world?s square-eyed
crypto-terrorists wielding scraps of code they picked up at some anonymous
FTP site catering to bored and unchallenged teen geeks.
The disconnect between the warnings and the reality allowed a number of
things to slip in under our personal radar. While we were distracted by
CNN?s Lou Dobbs and other jingoists abusing correspondents for reporting
that Iraqis appeared to be less than uncontrollably jubilant after being
liberated, the administration of President George W. Bush was quietly
unleashing the power of the new Department of Homeland Security with
promises to fight a war against cyber terrorism.
?The Department of Homeland Security is also charged with strengthening
our defences against cyber terrorism and the even greater dangers of
biological, chemical or nuclear weapons,? President George W. Bush said
when he opened it on Feb. 28, putting cyber war just below weapons of mass
destruction on the scale of scariness. ?We?ve established a science and
technology directorate within the department so we can apply some of our
nation?s best minds to the task of protecting our people.?
Frankly, the Homeland Security department?s stated efforts to control the
Internet are more terrifying than any of its own warnings about foreign
hackers. The department is now inextricably entwined with the new Bush
doctrine of pre-emptive war, a dramatic change of many decades of U.S.
policy, which allows the United States to enter shooting anywhere there is
a ?perceived? threat to U.S. interests. And that includes cyberspace as
well as desert sands.
In terms of cyberspace, all talk about its ?global? ownership seems to
have evaporated during the past few weeks. Instead, references to cyber
terrorism now carry the implication that the Internet is America?s to
How did we get here? We can blame a high-tech journalist community
accustomed to assessing the latest gee-whiz gadgets in terms of their
?power,? no matter how demonstrably silly or useless they are. We can
blame the hucksters whose job it is to oversell things like startups, and
marketers whose job it is to make extravagant predictions about such
things as the paperless office and telecommuting. We can blame all our
dreams of utopias run on microprocessors, even though they will do little
more than atrophy our muscles because we won?t ever have to leave our
They are all to blame, and none of them is to blame. We in the industry
are naturally enthralled with the idea of a brighter future through a
rapid revolution in technology, and so we tend to overlook its
shortcomings and be distracted by any source of excitement, especially a
high-tech invasion of an oil-rich nation dominated by a disgraceful
dictator. After all, there is little room for subtlety in a binary world
of yes and no, of positive and negative, of good and evil.
What the profoundly wrong predictions of cyber war have taught us is that
it is not our systems and networks that are astonishingly vulnerable, but
our own credulousness.
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