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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

''Iraq will destroy us by computer,'' the experts screamed (part 2)

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Tuesday, 6 May 2003

"IRAQ WILL CRIPPLE the U.S. with cyber-attacks," the fearmongers warned. I tell you, everyone got into the act — from Congress to the FBI to former CIA officials to computer security salesmen.

Verton's stories quote a long string of belt­way ban­dits who can al­ways use a little free pub­licity.
Verton also shows a fond­ness for wacky "exclu­sive inter­views."

Even a fire-breathing Muslim cleric living the high life in Britain got into the act. Even a delusional narcissistic hacker living in the slums of Kuala Lumpur got into the act. I tell you, everyone screamed about the coming cybergeddon.

Hmph. Wusses. All of them.

I mean, c'mon! How much effort does it take to open a digital can of whoop-ass on the United States? From what I hear, even a 14yr-old Iraqi nomad can remotely shut down our national power grid and remotely pollute our vital toilet water supplies.

Let's review what the "experts" said as they pounded the drums of cyber-war.

Part 2: Dan Verton

I've written whole columns on Computerworld scribe Dan Verton, one of the more gullible cyber-war reporters out there. He likes to quote a long string of beltway bandits who can always use a little free publicity. He also shows a fondness (dare I say fetish?) for wacky "exclusive interviews," as you'll soon see.

Verton's widely reprinted story in September 2002 warned:

If history is a guide, any Bush administration plan to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq would likely set off a firestorm of hacker activity targeting U.S. networks and infrastructure. "And those attacks could be greater in number and affect a broader cross-section of U.S. businesses than anything seen before, according to [unnamed] intelligence experts... Any significant expansion of the U.S.-led war against terrorism, including an invasion of Iraq, could unleash an unprecedented wave of hacker activity, [unnamed] intelligence and security experts said.

A ground war in Iraq could spur other governments in the region to launch sophisticated state-sponsored information warfare campaigns. That's the conclusion of a study published two weeks after the September 11 attacks by the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College.

Verton's story also quoted Gartner Group cyber-war analyst John Pescatore (a man I've bashed for his myopic insight):

In addition to government and military networks, a U.S. invasion of Iraq would likely lead to the targeting of news media organizations, says Pescatore. "Given how media-savvy the Middle East has become, I'd expect to see the large newspaper and television news sites targeted for both propaganda-planting and denial-of-service attacks," he says. A global cyberconflict is also likely to affect companies that are considered American cultural icons, such as Microsoft, American Airlines, McDonald's and other multinational companies known for their U.S. roots, says Pescatore.

Yep. So much for that big McDonalds/Microsoft cyber-blockade, eh DannyJohnny?

Verton's story also quoted Ruth David, a former CIA techno-bigwig. Memo to Dr. Ruth: you need to dump Verton. He ain't good enough for ya, girl.

IN NOVEMBER 2002, Verton published an "exclusive interview" with Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who arrogantly warned "those who doubt al-Qaeda's interest in cyberweapons [should] take Osama bin Laden very seriously."

So much for that big McDonalds / Microsoft cyber-blockade, eh?

To hear Bakri say it, a crack team of virus writers — no doubt logging in from their remaining grottoes in Afghanistan — would use every terrorist cyber-weapon in their arsenal to derail the war against their Iraqi brethren.

Yep. So much for Al Qaeda's hacker minions coming to Saddam's rescue, eh DannyBakri?

Also in November 2002, Verton published another "exclusive interview" with narcissistic virus writer Nur Mohammad "Melhacker" Kamil, who threatened to unleash boolean vengeance if the U.S. invaded Iraq. Verton quoted Brian Kelly, CEO of iDefense (yet another well-documented fearmonger) and Network Associates flunky Vincent Gullotto.

Kelly ominously stated "while it might be true that al-Qaeda operatives are not well organized, skilled or equipped to mount a serious cyberoffensive, it is likely that al-Qaeda sympathizers will serve as surrogates in their cyberoffensive." Clearly, Verton's exclusive interviewee wanted to play the role Kelly assigned him.

Yep. So much for those diabolical al-Qaeda surrogate sympathizers, eh DannyBrian?

I asked this before and I'll ask it again. A firebreathing holy man agrees to divulge Al Qaeda's master plan — and some dweeb at Computerworld gets the exclusive interview? Bah. Why didn't Bakri flap his gums at Morley Safer or Barbara Walters or Connie Chung or Larry King?

[Continued in part 3:
"Hot off the press (release)"]

''Osama bin Virus!'' comedy album