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[] 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, 
unleashing hell.

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 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 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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