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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Terrorists vow to destroy the Internet today

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Saturday, 11 January 2003

As read by the author (MP3) TODAY IS THE last day of the Internet's short life. I kid you not.

A recent front page story in the Weekly World News screamed of nothing less than a "terrorist plot to blow up the Internet on 1-11!"
As in "today."

I've shown over the last five days how some speakers & attendees at VB2002 agree the death of the Internet will come soon. Very soon. I've still got three more columns to publish if you can believe it. We'll return to the VB2002 hysteria in my next column if the Internet survives that long...

...But first we must discuss a recent front page story in the Weekly World News. It screamed of nothing less than a "terrorist plot to blow up the Internet on 1-11!" As in "today." Their front page offered dire warnings about the apocalypse:

  • "Computer virus will destroy U.S. economy!"
  • "The U.S. military will be paralyzed!" [as usual, I regret to say]
  • "Electricity, food and water supplies vanish!"

Turn the pages of this supermarket tabloid and you'll find a babelicious photo of Sandra Westgate in a Playboy bikin-- {ahem} pardon me while I turn one more page — of this supermarket tabloid and you'll find dire warnings about today's diabolical terrorist attack.

Click here for antivirus pornography!

Weekly World News gave it a full two-page spread. I kid you not.

IDC chief research officer John Gantz strongly agrees with the Weekly World News story. He actually predicted cyber-terrorists will attack the Internet in 2003. As in "today." News.com staff writer Ed Frauenheim breathlessly reported Gantz' fears (and I quote):

A major cyberterrorism event will disrupt the economy and bring the Internet to its knees... The event could take the form of a denial-of-service attack, a network intrusion or even a physical attack on key network assets, IDC said Thursday, during a presentation in which it laid out its annual forecast of technology developments for the coming year. IDC sees the cyberthreat arising from a potential war with Iraq, which has been the object of intense international scrutiny... "The [potential] war with Iraq will galvanize hackers," said John Gantz.

I probably should've passed along this dire warning in an earlier column, but {yawn} I decided to spring it on you at the very last minute. Literally.

Three respected pundits joined the cries of alarm, each in their own way. Newsweek futurist Michael Rogers wrote zero words for his "tech predictions for 2003." His implication was clear — why predict the future of computing when the end is nigh? ZDNN senior associate editor Robert Vamosi strongly agrees with the findings of the Weekly World News story, too. He actually said (and I quote):

I [once] dismissed the idea that the United States would see an all-out cyberwar anytime soon. I have since changed my mind... What changed my mind about the possibility of cyberwar was a series of articles by Giles Trendle, a former war correspondent who now writes about cyberterrorism. In the 1980s, Trendle covered the ground war in Lebanon and became an expert on guerrilla warfare, which is essentially what cyberwarfare is. Although his articles focus largely on the cyberconflict between Arabs and Israelis, it's easy to see how the same type of attacks could occur elsewhere in the world, too.

IT ALMOST GOES without saying that Lebanon war correspondent Giles Trendle strongly agrees with the Weekly World News exposé. He actually said (and I quote):

Western governments and businesses should brace themselves for 'suicide cyber attacks'... [One pro-Al Qaeda hacker] defined a 'suicide cyber attack' as one in which the hacker sets out to cause maximum damage unhindered by any regard for being detected and caught.

Computer security celebrity Steve Gibson strongly agrees with Vamosi's comments. In fact, Gibson fears an overwhelming majority of incompetent U.S. computer users will contribute to today's global demise. He actually said (and I quote):

An infected and security-compromised computer can be used to ... actively attack our nation's critical Internet infrastructure. Therefore, the vulnerabilities inherent in our personal and corporate computing systems represent a clear and present danger to this nation. These vulnerabilities could be maliciously exploited at any time.

"Exploited at any time" means today, of course. White House cyberspace security advisor Richard Clarke strongly agrees with Gibson's patriotic concerns and with the Weekly World News exposé. He long ago actually predicted this day would come — a terrorist cybertastrophe so large and so deadly that (and I quote) "the federal government needs a reconstitution plan" just to survive it. Clarke actually said (and I quote):

Think of the functional equivalent of four 767s crashing into buildings, not the little car bomb. It could be a catastrophic damage to our economy, and if done at a time of national security crisis, it could be a catastrophic damage to our national defense.

CERT® team leader Casey J. Dunlevy "ver­bally con­firmed" the mafia killed some­body over the Inter­net while he lay in a hos­pital bed. Cyber-terrorists will like­wise use the Inter­net as a murder weapon in today's attacks.

mi2g founder & CEO D.K. Matai strongly agrees with the dire threat disclosed by the Weekly World News. His firm actually predicted a cyber-terror attack in an urgent global media advisory:

The critical national infrastructure of NATO member countries including the US and UK is ultimately driven by a network of SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems, PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) and DCS (Distributed Control Systems). These are likely to be the next major conduits for remote attack, which could disrupt power stations, water and sewage treatment plants as well as major communication and transportation hubs.

"It will damage communal networks enough to make all computers worthless as a means of communication," Weekly World News correspondent Mike Foster warned — and MessageLabs CTO Mark Sunner strongly agrees. He actually said (and I quote):

It will certainly cease to be usable as a safe and credible means of communication for business and home users... Computer networks could grind to a halt because of the overwhelming volume of infected material circulating.

Foster's story continued: "the chaos [today's] strike will cause could throw the stock market into an even bigger tizzy." FRISK antivirus expert Vesselin Bontchev strongly agrees. He actually said (and I quote):

Imagine a denial-of-service attack network directed against all online brokers. There are that many now. If they are shut down for just a day, this will cause millions [of dollars] of damage... And this is just an example. There are many other places which don't classify as a critical infrastructure, but the destruction of which will cause millions and billions [of dollars] of damage. It may be sufficient to take down whole economies.

WEEKLY WORLD NEWS believes if today's cyber-attack proves successful, it "could cause catastrophic problems with our computerized missile defense systems." A report posted on a University of Colorado server actually said (and I quote):

[CACI vice president] Diane Shields, speaking before more than 200 prominent main frame computer professionals, announced that ... the launch control systems of US Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles ... will fail due to flawed software logic. She then went on to assure the suddenly very attentive audience that of course the defective missile launch control software would be fixed before the date corruption is triggered."

We can only pray the U.S. military fixed its defective missile systems software by now. Cyber-terrorists will strike today, you know! Not even Col. Steve Austin will be safe if BDU-clad programmers failed their patriotic duty.

If it takes nine days to return power to just one community after a run-of-the-mill natural weather problem — how long will it take to return power to the entire planet after a never-before-seen unnatural cyber-attack?

Amazing, eh? The odds for a global nuclear winter rest entirely on the shoulders of a few good men who hold USMC MOS 9982 or USAF AFSC 3C0x2. Senator Charles Schumer strongly agrees with the new role for military warriors. He actually said (and I quote): "this is possibly the principle form of 21st century warfare."

Cigar-chomping generals triumphed over tyranny in WWII; soda-chugging enlisted nerds may or may not triumph over tyranny in WW3.0. We'll certainly know by the end of today, won't we?

"Life-sustaining electricity, food and water will virtually disappear," Foster proclaimed in his Weekly World News story, "as suppliers who depend on the Internet become completely unable to get the goods to consumers." Antivirus guide Mary Landesman (About.com) actually suffered without electricity and without the Internet for nine days until her electric company repaired the damage caused by an ice storm. Residents of Koblenz, Germany recently suffered their own weather-related utility failures and it doesn't look like their power/water/sewage service will return anytime soon.

These simple facts force us to make a simple observation, which in turn forces us to ask a simple question:

Utility workers have a full century of experience with Mother Nature. If it takes nine days to return power to just one community after a run-of-the-mill natural weather problem — how long will it take to return power to the entire planet after a never-before-seen unnatural cyber-attack?

I suspect Gantz, Vamosi, Trendle, Gibson, Clarke, Matai, Sunner, Bontchev, and Schumer would endorse the seven instructions Weekly World News offered on "how to survive a CYBER ATTACK":

  1. If your salary or pension is currently paid by direct deposit, switch to payments in a paper-check form — or preferably, by cash.
  2. Make sure that [today], your computer is not logged on to the Internet, not attached to any phone wires, not switched on and ideally not plugged into a wall socket. Otherwise, any data could be wiped out in the cyberstrike. [No joke: the chief scientist of Sunyata Systems wrote a computer virus that can physically destroy a PC even if it's not turned on at the time.]
  3. Avoid initiating any on-line stock trades after the first of the year. [Read Bontchev's stock market disaster scenario if you need further convincing.]
  4. Absolutely do not use a credit card [today].
  5. Withdraw sufficient cash for you and your family to live on in early January. ATMs will likely be "fried" by the cyberstrike, experts say.
  6. Make sure you have phone numbers and addresses of friends. "People will have to learn to write longhand again. E-mail will be part of American history for the foreseeable future," one computer expert warns. Dig out that old typewriter!
  7. Put a home-security plan in place — such as a burglar alarm, guard dogs, guns and sufficient ammunition, and be prepared for possible civil unrest.

You know, these Weekly World News instructions sound oddly familiar. I could swear a horde of renowned experts gave us the same advice in 1999. But we can't afford to dwell on the past when the Internet stands on brink of disaster! Hurry! Do as much as you can while there's still time! Go go go!

I MYSELF URGE you to avoid any computerized medical procedure from this day forward. Period. Not even if your life depends on it.

White House com­puter security advisor Richard Clarke actu­ally said cyber-terrorists can inflict "the func­tional equiv­alent of four 767s crashing into buildings."

Hmmm. I probably should've passed along this dire warning in an earlier column, but {yawn} I decided to spring it on you at the very last minute. Literally.

No LASIK surgery, no MRI scans, no computer-generated blood tests, no laser dental visits, and no telemedicine diagnoses. No laser hair removal, either. Avoid high-tech doctors at all costs. Cyber-terrorists will strike today, you know! It wouldn't surprise me if all of the world's medical lasers start firing wildly and slice people's arms off.

In fact, you should unplug everything with a computer-controlled laser in it. Laser printers, Sony Walkman CD players, DVD players, you name it. Cyber-terrorists will give "laser hair removal" a whole new meaning starting today! I'm no fool — I took the batteries out of my laser pointer. Better safe than sorry...

Folks, I cannot overstate the threat cyber-terrorism poses to high-tech medicine as of today. CERT® team leader Casey J. Dunlevy strongly agrees with me on this point. Dunlevy claims he (and I quote) "verbally confirmed" the mafia killed somebody over the Internet as he lay in a hospital bed. Dunlevy described the "hit" in extraordinary detail during a CERT®-funded speech ironicallyappropriately titled "Security Realities."

Well, okay: he omitted a few minor technical details like the name of the hospital and the country where it occurred. But I assure you Dunlevy "verbally confirmed" the fact it did happen. The mafia did use the Internet as a lethal weapon. I was sitting in the audience with a bewildered look on my faceas he described the assassination in detail. Heck, I relayed Dunlevy's story to my own audience when I gave the opening keynote at the very same CERT® conference.

If the mafia could cyber-whack a hospital patient last year, then cyber-terrorists will certainly do it today. Listen to me — you've got to take grandma out of the ICU and get her to safety! Do it right now, before Osama bin Virus hacks into the SCADA equipment that controls her iron lung! You can't trust a hospital to keep her alive any more than you can trust antivirus software to stop a virus.

I would brave the torture of a weeping rash before I'd step through the hospital doors to my doom. A surgeon claims you'll die in six months if you don't go under the knife? Hey, at least you've got six months! You'll die immediately if an anesthesiologist uses a computer to control the flow of ether. Stay away from hospitals from this day forward if you know what's good for you. And stay away from ambulances, too.

Honestly, now — when the nurse cups the mask over your nose & mouth, do you want your last flickering vision to be that of an oncologist who just lost control of his robotic scalpel?

MY TENURE AS a computer security critic is over. This website will cease to exist later today when cyber-terrorists destroy the Internet.

MessageLabs CTO Mark Sunner actually said the Internet "will certainly cease to be usable as a safe and credible means of communication for business and home users."

In fact all computer security experts around the world will lose their jobs today, simply because there won't be a computer industry to protect. But at least we can rejoice in the fact misery loves company — everyone at Microsoft will need to find real work, too. Ha!

Once Seattle finally stops burning, I mean.

It looks like we'll need plenty of grave diggers starting tomorrow. My job as a critic involves manure and a shovel, so I should fit right in. After we've buried the teeming millions, I'll try to swing a job at the local bowling alley. They'll need someone to set the pins by hand, right? I can teach the high-tech survivors — the neo-Amish, if you will — how to keep score with a stubby #2 pencil.

Yes, I'll mourn the Internet's passing. But do you know what I'll miss the most about my high-tech job at Vmyths? The humor. You need to go back to 1991 to find any other website with "Vesselin Bontchev" and "Weekly World News" on the same page.

Okay, now we can return to the last-minute madcap hysteria of VB2002...

[Continued in part 6:
Somebody finally asks
an obvious question

[Editor's note: second edition. This column was updated to correct a transcription error.]

''Osama bin Virus!'' comedy album