Hoaxes, myths,
urban legends





About us


Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Actually, cyber-budgets are the next battlefield

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Thursday, 21 June 2001 As read by the author (MP3) USA TODAY RAN a gushing story on the Pentagon's cyberwar efforts. And when I say a gushing story, I mean it. It ran on the front page of Tuesday's edition, "above the fold" where everyone could see it.
Pentagon infowarriors believe China can devastate the U.S. with computer viruses...
U.S. antivirus firms give virus technology to Beijing but not to Washington...
The Pentagon buys antivirus software almost exclusively from turncoat antivirus firms...
Does anyone else see the irony here?
"Cyberspace is the next battlefield," the front page declared. It spilled over to page 2A with the headline " 'Information warfare' can wreak devastation with minimal bloodshed." The print edition even displayed a camouflaged mouse. How quaint. Writer Andrea Stone almost choked me with the fluff. Her opening paragraph blabbed "they don't drive tanks, fly jets or even wear boots. But the computer technicians hunkered down in virtual foxholes ... here in suburban Washington [D.C.] might well be the frontline soldiers in the nation's next war." She went on like that for the entire story. Let me sum up Stone's best prose:
They work for the Defense Information Systems Agency, which figures that future conflicts won't be won by shooting down the enemy's aircraft but by shutting down its computers... They are being trained to guard against computer attacks by other countries and to launch computer virus invasions that will bring chaos to a foe's communications networks, financial systems and power grids. Military analysts say the United States is one of more than 20 countries girding for this new kind of conflict, known within the Defense Department as "IW" for information warfare... China is pursuing IW capabilities at least as aggressively as the Pentagon... Computer viruses are an enticing and relatively cheap weapon. Analysts say IW could shorten conventional conflicts or even head them off by bringing foes to their knees... Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ranks IW as one of the gravest national security threats... Analysts say the U.S. arsenal likely includes malevolent "Trojan horse" viruses... [Infowarriors] could change the enemy's tank computers to identify "friendly" forces as foes... Teams from the intelligence-gathering National Security Agency (NSA) [once] used Internet hacker programs to simultaneously break into nine [U.S.] city power grids and 911 emergency systems...
Frontline soldiers hunkered down in virtual foxholes? Bring foes to their knees with a computer virus? Rumsfeld — an architect of the Vietnam war — now believes a 500-byte ping packet can outperform a 500-pound bomb? Thank goodness I picked up a new asthma inhaler before reading it. Stone made it clear she doesn't know the difference between a computer and a CB radio. Note this gem: "The Pentagon has already used computer weapons. During the Gulf War, U.S. warplanes emitted electronic jamming signals..." Bah. Memo to clueless reporter: Germany used the same technology against us in World War II. Only in the final paragraph did Stone offer any opposition to her gush. "Information warfare 'doesn't have the same punch as bombs,' [National Defense University IW expert Dan] Kuehl says."
STONE LITTERED HER story with the word "virus." At one point she declared "China has assembled a battalion of computer experts to develop offensive viruses." (Makes you wonder what a defensive virus looks like, eh?) Yet not once did she mention who supplies China with virus technology.
Many U.S. antivirus experts serve China as a tool of their firms' marketing departments. I don't make this claim lightly.
Answer: U.S. antivirus firms do it. Trend Micro, Symantec, and Network Associates admit they give viruses to Beijing so they can sell more antivirus software. Okay, okay, I'll admit Trend is a Chinese firm masquerading as a Japanese firm with a Philippine virus lab and a large sales office in California. I stand corrected regarding their "U.S." status. Still, we can sum up the irony in three sentences:
  1. Beltway infowarriors believe China can devastate the U.S. with computer viruses.
  2. U.S. antivirus firms supply Beijing with virus technology but don't supply it to Washington.
  3. Beltway infowarriors buy virus protection almost exclusively from turncoat antivirus firms.
Talk about a perpetual cash cow for the industry! Best of all, the Pentagon remains addicted to commercial antivirus software. Those whimpering info-wusses give truckloads of tax dollars to their pushers. The makers of Kevlar vests could learn a valuable lesson here. Amoral? Sure. But morals sometimes clash with profits. Antivirus firms must decide whether to put their customers' safety or their shareholders' interests first. Trend Micro, Symantec, and Network Associates report to Wall Street, not the White House. Their virus experts serve China as a tool of the marketing department. I don't make this claim lightly. Anyway, I can forgive Stone if she didn't investigate the other side of her fluff piece. Few critics exist, and Vmyths.com hoards many of them. Trust me — you'll make more money if you worship IW rather than critique it. Now you know why only the Wall Street Journal, The Register, and Vmyths.com reported on China's unique relationship with antivirus firms. No other print- or web-based publication on Earth touched this hot potato. Not even computer security publications. Not even USA Today. I suppose we can also forgive the U.S. military if they left Stone in the dark on purpose. The Pentagon needs a clear-cut Mongol enemy for publicity reasons. USA Today's gushing piece would lose its propaganda value if it said "antivirus companies give virus technology to China but not to the U.S." The Pentagon would once again look stupid, and who needs such notoriety on the front page of a national newspaper?
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped architect the Vietnam war. He now seems to think a 500-byte ping packet can outperform a 500-pound bomb.

TIME FOR A philosophical question. What does the Pentagon hope to achieve with all of this propaganda? Stone buried the answer deep within her story. The military's Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense "asked Congress for a 500% increase in funding, from $3.1 million to $18.6 million in 2002." I don't know about you, but I can't swallow such a big coincidence. They work too closely with the Defense Information Systems Agency. We can't call it lobbying per se, so let's think of it as "asymmetric lobbying." Then we find another story in the same newspaper edition written by — you guessed it — Andrea Stone. Beltway insiders believe Gee-Dubya, the Computer-in-Chief himself, will pick his top cyber-general as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Stone's front-page fluff piece came at a very opportune time for him. Okay, okay, the JCS nominee rumor does sound a little bit like a coincidence. Yet we'll never know for sure, will we?