Truth About Computer Security Hysteria
Nobel Peace laureate threatens computer annihilation
Wednesday, 1 September 1999
A NOBEL PEACE prize, an oppressed political movement, and computer viruses. You'll get the
media's attention if you can use all three in a single sentence. Believe it or not, laureate José
Ramos-Horta threatened a full scale cyber-war if Indonesia meddled with East Timor's independence ballot. The
1996 Nobel winner offered this verbatim warning in a newspaper
A Nobel winner claimed a bunch of reflexive liars who don't know Indonesia from Micronesia would lash out at a
second-world nation in the South Pacific right after they finished the evening shift at Taco Bell.
More than 100 computer wizards, mostly teenagers in Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Brazil, the US and Canada,
are preparing their own battle plan. They are targeting the entire computer network of the Indonesian government,
army, banking and finance institutions to create chaos. A dozen special viruses are being designed to infect the
Indonesian electronic-communications system, including aviation.
One computer wizard recently told me: "We will terminate their banking system. We will invade their sites
and destroy them. People will be scared to travel to Indonesia when they know that we are also infecting their
air communications. We will cause them to lose hundreds of millions of dollars."
A Nobel Peace laureate coordinates with dangerous computer wizards scattered around the globe. The literal demise
of a nation's banking system. Deadly viruses infect voice transmissions between pilots and air traffic
controllers. Hundreds of millions of dollars in cyber-destruction. (Australian dollars or U.S. dollars?) Even
worse: no antivirus vendor offers a cure, which means these new viruses might infect computers around the world.
I doubt the Swiss can stay out of this war...
So. A bunch of reflexive liars who don't know Indonesia from Micronesia may, or may not, cripple a second-world
nation in the South Pacific right after they finish the evening shift at Taco Bell. I've got two words for
"precautionary disconnect." Those dangerous computer wizards
will declare victory when the pings stop — then they'll go back to watching the new
Weird Al Yankovic video.
Does anyone really believe tourists will avoid Indonesia because of a computer virus? I don't mean to dilute
Ramos-Horta's message, but ... okay, I take it back. I do mean to dilute his message. Atomic geography
folks: Indonesia lies just north of Christmas Island. Forget antivirus software — you better pack a
Geiger counter in your travel bag. Brochures
for Jakarta city recommend SPF 15 while sleeping in your motel room.
Nuclear fallout doesn't scare away tourists, yet Ramos-Horta believes a dozen computer viruses will. He needs to
spend some Nobel prize money on a clue meter if you ask me.
Actually, some people did take Ramos-Horta seriously. (Not tourists, though.) Indonesia's Foreign
Ministry labeled it an "extremely serious" threat requiring "preventative action" and went on
to say "this is terrorism against democracy." A spokesman for East Timor's TLD (top level domain)
provider also denounced the threatened cyber-war.
After the vote, MSNBC reported only a "slaughter" in East Timor. The online story includes
a graphic snuff video but says nothing about computer viruses. The Sydney Morning Herald likewise
reported "a war zone last night after hundreds of pro-Jakarta militia took control of the East Timor capital,
sealing off roads, torching houses and laying siege to the main United Nations compound." Again, no hint of
a horrifying cyber-war.
Whew! Just your everyday death, destruction, oppression, U.N. impotence, deportation of reporters, etc. Thank
God! No one wants a repeat of Kosovo (aka "Web War I"). Still, I'm ready to upgrade my
antivirus software the instant Reuters sounds the alarm.
Australian Associated Press correspondent Karen Polglaze put this issue in proper perspective.
"Asked whether he agreed with [Ramos-Horta] that hundreds of computer hackers would seek to disrupt
Indonesia's banking, airline and other vital computer systems should the ballot not be fair, [imprisoned
resistance leader Jose "Xanana"] Gusmao threw up his hands, saying he had spent 18 years in the jungle
and seven in jail, so he knew nothing about computers."
Indonesia lies just north of
Christmas Island. What concerns
tourists more: a computer virus or nuclear fallout?