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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Did Clay Wilson play an April Fool's joke on Congress?

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Tuesday, 12 July 2005 Rob Rosenberger NEWSWEEK FELL TO the demon of embarrassment after they believed a high-level government source who claimed military interrogators flushed a copy of the Quran (Islam's holy tome) down a toilet. The news led to riots in some countries and at least 17 people died. The U.S. government immediately lashed out at Newsweek's gullibility. And Newsweek backpedaled.
"Hey Clay, I heard the CIA blew up that pipe­line with SCADA software in 1982 to get back at the KGB for blowing up Texas City in 1947 with SCADA soft­ware. That true?"
Aw, poor U.S. government! How dare that mean ol' magazine take advantage of them by quoting a source who can't be held accountable for making a bizarre statement! The feds would never do the same thing-- --unless it involves computer security, of course. Then Washington's beltway will fall all over itself in a massive fit of hysterical gullibility. On April Fool's Day, Clay Wil-- waitaminit, did I just say "April Fool's Day?"? Let me check my facts again. Yes, I really did get my dates correct. Let's start over. On April Fool's Day, Clay Wilson at the Congressional Research Service updated his treatise on "Computer Attack and Cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and Policy Issues for Congress." Computer security experts spout all sorts of urban legends — and Wilson fell for one of the most recent whoppers:
According to news sources, in the 1980s during the Cold War, the United States CIA deliberately created faulty SCADA software and then planted it in locations where agents from the Soviet Union would steal it. Unknown to the Soviets, the SCADA software, which was supposedly designed to automate controls for gas pipelines, was also infected with a secret Trojan Horse programmed to reset pump speeds and valve settings that would create pressures far beyond what was acceptable to pipeline joints and welds. The result, in June 1982, was a monumental nonnuclear explosion on the trans-Siberian gas pipeline, equivalent to 3 kilotons of TNT. However, the event remained secret because the explosion took place in the Siberian wilderness, and there were no known casualties. [Footnote #104:] NORAD monitors first suspected that the explosion was a nuclear explosion, but satellites did not pick up an electromagnetic pulse that would have accompanied a nuclear detonation. William Safire, "The Farewell Dossier, "New York Times, Feb. 4, 2004.
"According to news sources"? The research arm of congress itself can cite nothing more than one gullible reporter? Does anyone remember when two senior U.S. officials told U.S. News & World Report how the NSA released a printer virus during the Gulf War in 1991? Listen to me, folks. William Safire is definitely one of the more gullible reporters out there who dispenses misinformation. But when you can pretend to be a computer security expert like Clay Wilson, you can believe anyone with an unsubstantiated story — William Safire, D.K. Matai, you name it. Indeed, computer security goddess Dan Erwin teaches courses on how to believe everything you read when it comes to computer security! "True? I don't know, but it's in the press, so I can use it" as the gospel truth. Who wants to bet Wilson took one of Erwin's courses? Who wants to bet the next update to Wilson's treatise cites U.S. News & World Report when it talks about that amazing Iraqi printer virus? Ah, but you will find disbelievers in the crowd. It won't surprise me if some of them work with Clay Wilson at the Congressional Research Service. I can already see him standing at the water cooler, wincing as he gets ribbed over my column:
"Hey Clay, I heard Russia blew up Texas City in 1947 with SCADA soft­ware to get back at America for blowing up Tun­guska in 1908 with SCADA soft­ware. That true?"
Tom:
Hey Clay, I heard the CIA blew up that pipeline with SCADA software in 1982 to get back at the KGB for blowing up Texas City in 1947 with SCADA software. That true?
Clay:
Shut up. The guy who wrote that column is an idiot.
Tom:
Do you mean Rob Rosenberger or William Safire?
John:
Hey Clay, I heard Russia blew up Texas City in 1947 with SCADA software to get back at America for blowing up Tungunska in 1908 with SCADA software. That true?
Clay:
Shut up. The guy who wrote that column is an idiot.
George:
Hey Clay, I heard the guy who wrote that column is linked to the CIA and was an Air Force information warfare crew chief. That true?
Clay:
Shut up. The guy who wrote that column is an idiot.

WILSON'S ONLY SAVING grace is that he updated his treatise on April Fool's Day. He can use it as a "get out of jail free" card if he's got the nerve to do it.
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Newsweek vowed to get the approval of a senior editor before using anonymous or unsubstantiated sources. Thankfully, this new policy does not apply to Clay Wilson, William Safire, Dan Erwin, D.K. Matai, or any computer security publication like SC Magazine (which doesn't even have a corrections policy, but that's another story)...
''Debunking Richard Clarke'' computer security audio CD now available