Truth About Computer Security Hysteria
Richard Clarke's 'digital Pearl Harbor'
Sunday, 10 December 2000
VMYTHS.COM CELEBRATES AN anniversary today. Its roots as a website go back to 10 December 1995 when the "Computer Virus Myths home page" made its debut. Its name may have changed but Vmyths.com remains true to its original goal — the eradication of virus hysteria. As Cecil Adams would say, "it's taking longer than we thought" to win the war.
And speaking of war ... this week also marked the 59th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. Sadly, another high-ranking official cheapened the memory of Pearl Harbor in order to stir up computer security hysteria.
President Clinton appointed Richard Clarke to the National Security Council as his coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counter-terrorism. Clarke developed a serious fetish for computer security hysteria — think of him as the Internet's Joe McCarthy — and he loves making comparisons to Pearl Harbor.
History records a loss of 2,341 servicemen, 54 civilians, and most of our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. America declared war on Japan the very next day; the two bitter enemies fought for almost four years until America dropped two atomic bombs. Pearl Harbor literally spawned the mass imprisonment of U.S. citizens solely because of their heritage.
No joke: Clarke wants you to believe a computer virus or a hacker will someday inflict equivalent damage. Reuters reporter Scott Hillis filed the following newswire:
Another high-ranking official cheapened the memory of Pearl Harbor just to stir up computer security hysteria.
The United States is vulnerable to sneak attacks in cyberspace that could amount to a "digital Pearl Harbor," a top government official warned on Friday. Richard Clarke, who coordinates security and infrastructure protection at the White House National Security Council, said the next U.S. president must shield the economy from foreign cyber warriors.
"Several nations ... have created information warfare squadrons, battalions. These organizations are developing techniques to bring down computer networks," Clarke told an Internet security conference. Clarke was speaking 59 years and a day after the bombing by Japanese planes of U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at the beginning of the Second World War. "The organizations, some of them, are doing reconnaissance today on our networks, mapping them, looking for vulnerabilities. They may even be doing more than that," he said...
"It may be improbable that cyberspace can be seriously disrupted, that war in cyberspace can occur. But it can occur and the question is: what are we going to do about it now, before it happens," Clarke said. "I don't think the United States has to have a major disaster to deal with this. I hope we don't have to have a digital Pearl Harbor or a digital Exxon Valdez," Clarke said, referring to the massive Alaskan oil spill in 1989...
Clarke gave a similar keynote speech in September at InfowarCon 2000. He insisted no terrorist group "is even trying" to build up its information warfare skills — yet, true to form, Clarke predicted the U.S. will suffer an unspecified cyber-catastrophe in the next few years. It will be a digital Pearl Harbor so large and so deadly that "the federal government needs a reconstitution plan" just to survive it.
Who will destroy the U.S. by computer remains a mystery. What they'll do to the U.S. by computer also remains a mystery. Clarke has never offered a plausible scenario (at least not one involving computers). Rather, he engages in FUD and leaves it to our lurid imaginations to fill in the holes.
Don't get me wrong — Clarke has a plausible scenario not involving computers. It begins with an enemy hydrogen bomb detonated high overhead to fry every motherboard in North America. Things go downhill from there.
"But Rob," you observe, "why does Clarke worry about computer security if no computers will be left? Why doesn't he tell us to worry more about hydrogen bombs blowing up over sovereign territory?"
Clarke predicts the U.S. will suffer an unspecified cyber-catastrophe in the next few years. It will be a digital Pearl Harbor so large and so deadly that "the federal government needs a reconstitution plan" just to survive it.
THE ANSWER LIES in media exposure. Reporters embrace McCarthy-esque computer security fearmongers and shun McCarthy-esque nuclear fearmongers. Clarke screams about hackers & Trojans & viruses (oh my) because it gets his name in print.
This guy needs media exposure more than you might think. You heard it here first — Clarke wants to be the next CIA chief. His underlings started spreading rumors on Capitol Hill in an effort to secure his promotion.
Clarke will keep on screaming about computer security, and he'll continue spitting on the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, until he lands the coveted spook job ... or until he gets canned by the next president.
In case you didn't know it, December also marked the 46th anniversary of the Senate's censure against Joe McCarthy. It may be improbable that Clarke will get fired. But it can occur and the question is: what is he going to do about it now, before it happens?
Memo to Richard Clarke: December also marked the 46th anniversary of the Senate's censure against Joe McCarthy.