Truth About Computer Security Hysteria
Robert Vamosi flip-flops on ''electronic Pearl Harbor''Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Sunday, 12 December 2004 LAST WEEK I took a moment to remember the few remaining survivors of Pearl Harbor. And I was reminded yet again of a devastating "electronic Pearl Harbor" that made mincemeat of the United States.
3 May 2002: "Is it just the tenor of these jittery times, or is there really something to reports that China will soon launch a cyberattack against the United States and Taiwan? ...One compelling reason to believe [China would attack]: May 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the incident in which a U S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter, killing the pilot. In retaliation, the Chinese grounded the American plane for several weeks in its country. Immediately after that incident, there was some speculation of a pending Chinese-U.S. cyberwar... But nothing came of the cyberwar rumors that followed the spy-plane incident. I have the same feeling about the speculation this year. If anything does happen, I'd pin the blame on the calendar instead. There just seems to be something about spring that makes virus and worm writers go a little crazy..." 14 August 2002: "I don't buy that foreign countries are focusing on cyberattacks. It seems to me that a domestic user with a strong political agenda would be a more likely candidate to start a conflict than a hostile foreign government... But if [Richard Clarke] keeps crying wolf about a cyberwar, it could dull public reaction to credible cybersecurity threats. At least [Winston] Churchill offered specifics. He cited the increasing numbers of Luftwaffe planes to back up his prophetic warnings. At present, Clarke and others can't even say who might attack or what such an attack might look like. Until Clarke or someone else answers these questions — and supports their claims with hard evidence — I'm not going to be up nights worrying about a cyberwar against the United States.Vamosi changed his views on cyber-war in the fall of 2002, and he explained it to his readers. You'll notice this does not qualify as a flip-flop. It's just a reasoned change of opinion:
25 September 2002: "Earlier this year, I dismissed the idea that the United States would see an all-out cyberwar anytime soon. I have since changed my mind. I still don't believe we'll see a large-scale, well-coordinated offensive. But I do think small, spontaneous, politically motivated attacks are possible in the near future. 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...."I won't fault Vamosi for the simple act of changing his mind. Heaven knows my own opinions change from time to time. For example, I used to chide Symantec for writing antivirus software for non-existent viruses. I changed my mind 2½ years later when one such virus finally made its debut. I'm now a strong advocate for proactive antivirus technology.
OKAY, SO LET'S get to Vamosi's flip-flop. It revolves around the idea of an "electronic Pearl Harbor," an integral element proposed by cyber-war and cyber-terrorism doomsayers. Let's call it an "ePH" for short.
22 December 2003: "For the past few years, former White House cybersecurity director Richard Clarke has predicted a Digital Pearl Harbor, a single Internet attack that would change the way we view cybersecurity ever after. Many believe such an event has not yet occurred. But I suggest it already has. In fact, in 2003 there were at least two candidates to choose from. Both had adverse effects on the Internet and in the 'real' world — which means to me they'd qualify under any conservative definition of 'Digital Pearl Harbor'..." 29 March 2004: "I find it ironic that former U.S. counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke is in the news at the same time that a major swarm of new viruses are circulating on the Net and the first task forces from the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace (NSSC) are reporting their recommendations... I have not always agreed with Clarke's politics, nor do I think he's right that a digital Pearl Harbor is forthcoming..."Vamosi didn't make a simple change of mind here. He flip-flopped, plain and simple. I tried to email Vamosi for this column, but he goes to some lengths to hide his address from cyber-terrorists. Go figure. I don't know if my email failed to reach him or if he just chose to ignore me. I'll end this column with a philosophical question. What exactly is a "conservative definition of 'Digital Pearl Harbor'"?