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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

As read by the author

Arquilla + mi2g = {yawn}

As read by the author Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Monday, 26 April 2004

MY WIFE FELL asleep from boredom when I told her about this column. ( Listen to her snore if you don't believe me.) I gotta admit, this column bores me as well. Let's see if you can stay awake through it.

Memo to John Arquilla: don't blame me for the fact you sound so na´ve! I quoted you in context. You brought this on yourşself with a little help from mi2g.

We'll begin with a story about John Arquilla, a faculty member at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate school. Reporters describe him as a cyberwar expert who knows all about the amazing computer weapons we unleashed in the first Gulf War in 1991. Of course, Arquilla can't really tell us anything about it, since it all remains super-secret ultra-classified eyes-only mega-need-to-know. But hey, that doesn't stop him from basking in the limelight on TV and in print.

Arquilla guest-starred in last year's PBS Frontline special on "Cyber War!" (Regular readers will recall I trashed that Frontline episode in a rather hilarious fashion.) Right there on TV, Arquilla exposed an amazingly na´ve perspective on terrorism. I'll quote him in context from the Frontline special:

Listen to John Arquilla's na´ve theory We have to worry about the possibility of a campaign approach being taken by the cyber-attackers in which they mount several attacks over a period of hours, or perhaps over days. Think about, for example, a Nimda virus, something like that, that would be deployed once a week for three months. Think about the economic impact of something like that...

Listen to John Arquilla's na´ve theory If I were establishing a terror organization today, I would be more interested in doing costly disruption by cyberspace-based means. If I did physical destruction, I would know that I would have to deal with a bunch of angry Americans who would track me to the ends of the earth. On the other hand, if I could engage in acts that would cause hundreds of billions of dollars worth of costly economic damage — and I could do it relatively secretly — why wouldn't I pursue that aim? And why wouldn't that make me a great hero to the constituency I was serving? ...So if I were terrorist, I would be thinking these days about mass disruption rather than mass destruction.

(Stay awake, please! I swear, you look like one of Arquilla's students with those droopy eyes.)

Okay, now let's turn to the friendly fearmongers at mi2g. This firm loves to pull numbers out of its elevator butt for reporters. In a recent spat of "news alerts" (thinly veiled press releases), mi2g insisted "the combined economic damage to date from [the] Bagle, MyDoom and NetSky [viruses] has now crossed $100bn worldwide." These three computer viruses each made their debut in early 2004, and — if you take mi2g at face value (which you shouldn't) — those three viruses caused over $100 billion in what Arquilla himself describes as "costly economic damage."

Okay, let's pull it all together before you fall asleep. It appears cyber-terrorists took John Arquilla's advice. They unleashed dozens of variants of the Bagle, MyDoom, and NetSky viruses. They did it relatively secretly, too. mi2g insists this diabolical act caused over $100 billion in damages around the world in a matter of weeks.

And yet no one seems to care! Go figure. CNN Headline News anchors reported Arquilla's cybertastrophe in a rather upbeat tone. You call that terrorism?

ARQUILLA URGED EVERYONE to "think about the economic impact of something like that." Unfortunately, the very thought of it bored my wife to sleep. (Listen to her!) It's probably boring you to sleep, too. I've got to admit, {yawn} I feel pretty tired myself. I can barely keep my own eyes open with all this terrorism raging around the world.

I want to leave you with one final thought before I tuck myself in. If you had to choose between real terrorism vs. Arquilla's terrorism, which would you choose? I said it before and I'll say it again: "I'd choose a cybercide bomber over a suicide bomber any day. And I'd choose fragmented TCP packets over fragmented body parts."

I gotta catch some zee's, folks. Good night. {zzzzzzz...}