Aug 18 2008

Media lacks “thousands feared dead” headlines in Russian-Georgian “cyber-war”

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I’ve got my prejudices and I admit it. Take Marcus Sachs for example: I openly disliked the man when he started working for White House cyberspace flunky Richard Clarke during the “taint era” from 1998 until Clarke’s unceremonious departure.

But the director of the SANS Internet Storm Center has finally won me over with a “very cynical” (his words) opinion on the supposed Russian-Georgian cyber-war. Good for him. I scratched Sachs off my prejudice list.

And speaking of the supposed Russian-Georgian cyber-war…

As Sachs noted, the computer press seems infatuated with a war that includes script kiddies and (ironically) the many “cyber tourists” who visited Georgian websites out of curiosity. Come, now — how can you call it a “war” when media coverage drives tourism through the roof?

This might lead you to wonder “what’s the difference between a physical war and a cyber war?” The answer is simple. In a physical war, a politician will shout “Christiane Amanpour‘s plane landed at the airport, everyone flee for your lives!” But in a cyber war, a coworker will shout “John Markoff‘s story just went online, everyone click on the links!”

Oddly: the computer pundits tell us only about Russia’s cyber-attacks on Georgia. To quote the legendary Bill Hicks: “a war is when two armies are fighting.” Why don’t we hear incredulousible stories about, who knows, maybe Georgia’s victorious counter-thrust into Russian IP space where they Google-bombed the .ru TLD, or something like that?

The non-computer press, on the other hand, seems far more interested in Russian bomber aircraft over the skies of Georgia. Those bombers recently made a “show of force” along two critical fuel pipelines:

The 45 craters — each some 60 feet across — scar the hillside like footprints left by a giant. Close by lies the BTC pipeline, operated by British oil company BP PLC and buried at a depth of nearly six feet… Another raid Tuesday appeared to have been aimed at a second pipeline, known as Baku-Supsa, which brings Azerbaijan oil from the Caspian Sea.

To hear the cyber-war experts say it, a logic bomb is equivalent to an aerial bomb. So, if Russia did launch a devastating cyber-war with Georgia, then why do they need bombers to demonstrate a show of force near Georgia’s fuel pipelines? To hear the cyber-war experts say it, Russia’s elite military hackers could log into the “SCADA” equipment that controls the pipelines and make it do whatever the Kremlin wants.


You’ll find all sorts of security hype about “SCADA,” the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition equipment that now automates every critical infrastructure on the planet — international fuel pipelines, continental electric power grids, federal air traffic control & landing systems, state highway toll booths, regional 911 services, county water treatment plants, city transit systems, and local traffic lights.

To hear the SCADA security experts say it, these devices even operate the dual-zone climate controls in your new car. That’s right: SCADA technology controls everything. Just ask the SCADA security experts.

SCADA technology is so insecure, claim the experts, that any college kid can destroy any power generator anywhere on Earth from the comfort of any dorm room or Starbucks café in less than two minutes.

Oh, and Russia secretly enlists every unethical college kid to serve in the Kremlin’s state-of-the-art military cyber squadron. Oh, and they can bring any country to its knees with their dastardly SCADA weapons. Just ask the cyber-war experts.

Toss in the bankrupt & corrupt history of Russia’s post-USSR military … and toss in the U.S. Air Force’s own belief that a logic bomb equals a Hellfire missile … and it only stands to reason that Russia would much rather launch SCADA attacks over bomber attacks.

Yet we see neither the amazing headline nor the amazing video of a Russian military SCADA attack. Go figure.

Did a story in the Wall Street Journal say “Thousands of Georgians feared dead in Russian military cyber attack”? NO. Did The Register announce “Russian army hackers make Georgian fuel pipelines flow backward”? NO. Did the U.S. Air Force website proclaim “Airmen deploy to Tbilisi to stop Russian military hackers”? NO.

Remember this the next time the computer media gets infatuated with the notion of a cyber-war.

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  • By xfmrhsdNo Gravatar, 19 August 2008 @ 1:00 am

    OK got it, this war is about oil. Not about recycled electrons. All the recent wars have been over oil, including the one Rob last served in. (thank-you and happy you are back) If we ever start to go to ground maneuvers over electrons we are all dead and it wont matter anyway… I think T Boon Pickens has a good answer, we should give him a chance. The Germans also have a good answer with the liquid hydrogen powered vehicle, which is a production unit not a concept.

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