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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Don't Believe Scare Stories about Cyber War

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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Date:

Mon, 6 Jun 2011 02:26:46 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (134 lines)

Don't Believe Scare Stories about Cyber War
By John Horgan
Scientific American
June 3, 2011
http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=dont-believe-scare-stories-about-cy-2011-06-03

For years, a friend I'll call Chip, knowing my obsession
with war, has been telling me: "Cyber War! That's what
you should be writing about! Real war is passé!" Chip
keeps sending me stories about all the damage digital
attacks do-or rather, might do, because as far as I can
tell cyber war hasn't claimed a single life. My
admittedly glib response has been that if nations start
waging war with 1s and 0s rather than bombs and bullets,
that's progress.

But Chip finally goaded me into writing about cyber war
by alerting me to a May 31 Wall Street Journal article,
"Cyber Combat: Act of War." The Pentagon "has concluded
that computer sabotage coming from another country can
constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first
time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using
traditional military force," according to the article.
It adds: "If a cyber attack produces the death, damage,
destruction or high-level disruption that a traditional
military attack would cause, then it would be a
candidate for a 'use of force' consideration, which
could merit retaliation."

This report follows years of scare stories about cyber
attacks. One of the best known involves a mysterious
program called "Stuxnet," which supposedly disrupted
Iran's nuclear program by infecting its computer
systems; the Stuxnet attack may have been carried out by
Israel, possibly with U.S. help. Other stories have
alleged attacks by Russia and China on U.S. computers
belonging to our defense agencies and contractors as
well as civilian businesses, such as Google.

One obvious problem with the Pentagon's new retaliation
policy is that tracing cyber attacks to their sources
can be difficult. Sophisticated hackers can concoct
false trails, leading the targets to suspect and
possibly retaliate against an innocent group. As one
unnamed Pentagon official told The New York Times, "How
do we know when it's a hacker and when it's the People's
Liberation Army?"

Here's another question: How do we know whether cyber
war poses a genuine threat to the U.S. and other
nations? The military-industrial complex has a long
history of exaggerating threats. Remember the " missile
gap," the Soviet Union's illusory superiority in nuclear
missiles, which justified enormous investments in the
U.S. nuclear arsenal?

U.S. security agencies today are trying to justify and
even increase their already immense budgets by hyping
the threat of cyber war, according to an article
published in The New Yorker last November by the
legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. He
quoted former U.S. security officials Richard Clarke and
Michael McConnell, among others, warning that the U.S.
could be vulnerable to "catastrophic" cyber attacks.

Hersh noted that cyber security, into which the U.S.
already pours as much $14 billion a year, "is a major
growth industry, and warnings from Clark, McConnell and
others have helped to create what has become a military-
cyber complex." Both Clarke and McConnell, Hersh pointed
out, work for consulting groups that have grabbed pieces
of the cyber-security pie.

Hersh also cited "military, technical and intelligence
experts" who contend that the danger of cyber attacks
that shut down nuclear power plants, air-traffic control
computers and other truly critical systems-as depicted
in fictional TV shows such as 24-"have been
exaggerated." Privacy advocates also warn that the
military-cyber complex is seeking more control over
civilian information systems, so that it can eavesdrop
on communications more readily. Of course, by boosting
its cyber defensive-and, no doubt, offensive-
capabilities, the U.S. may encourage other countries to
do so, triggering a cyber arms race that makes us more
rather than less vulnerable.

Here's a bit more context for the cyber warfare debate:
Over the past decade the U.S. defense budget has
doubled, and it is now almost as large as the military
budgets of all other nations combined. The vast, super-
secret National Security Agency (NSA), which oversees
U.S. digital security and intelligence-gathering, is
"three times the size of the CIA and with a third of the
U.S.'s entire intelligence budget," Jane Mayer noted in
the May 23 issue of The New Yorker.

Mayer reported that the U.S. Department of Justice is
zealously prosecuting a former NSA employee and whistle-
blower, Thomas Drake, who dared raise questions about
the agency's financial waste and illegal surveillance-
even though President Barack Obama once praised
whistleblowers as "often the best source of information
about waste, fraud and abuse in government." Mayer
quoted a law professor at Yale University, Jack Balkin,
who said of the Drake prosecution and similar cases, "We
are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and
legitimization of a national-surveillance state."

Cyber fear mongering originated during the George W.
Bush administration, but it has continued under Bush's
successor, who as a candidate criticized Bush's
warrantless wiretapping of Americans. I'm no longer
surprised by the Obama administration's hawkishness.
Just disappointed.

___________________________________________

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on the left that will help them to interpret the world
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