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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Rob Rosenberger

...And that is why we'll blow up Mecca someday

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Friday, 22 July 2005

You may have seen the recent brouhaha over congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and his idea to destroy Islam's holy sites if terrorists nuke one of our cities. In reality, this is old news. Back in 2002, the president's cyberspace security advisor made it clear the White House reserves the right to blow up Mecca to stop cyber-terrorism. But this rhetoric doesn't come only from Republicans — senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) condoned the Bush administration's right to blow up Mecca, and he hinted the U.S. should expel foreign Muslim computer science students as a proactive measure against cyber-terrorism. I don't make these claims lightly. With this in mind, I decided to update the H.G. Wells classic so you can understand why we'll blow up Mecca someday...

If Tom Cruise can make a parody of "The War of the Worlds," then I can, too. My parody re­veals the ab­sur­dity of blowing up Mecca to re­taliate against cyber-terrorism...

NO ONE WOULD have believed in the last years of the twentieth century that this network was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than ours and yet as MTBF as our own; that as netizens busied themselves about their various surfing they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a webmaster might scrutinise the transient IP addresses that swarm and multiply in a log file. With infinite complexity men went to and fro over this Internet about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over electrons. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of cyberspace as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of strife within the Internet as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, first-world men fancied there might be other computer users in the Middle East, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of cyberspace, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this Internet with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twenty-first century came the great disillusionment.

The Middle East, I scarcely need remind the reader, logs on at a Greenwich Mean Time of midnight, and the photons and electrons it receives from the Sun server is barely half of that received by this Internet. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our network; and long before this Internet started to be commercial, life upon its disk surface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely one seventh-millionth of the capacity of the Internet must have accelerated its programmers to write utilities at which artificial intelligence could begin. It has DNS and BIND and all that is necessary for the support of cyber existence.

Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no bureaucrat, up to the very end of the twentieth century, expressed any idea that artificial intelligence might have developed there far, or indeed at all, beyond its Internet level. Nor was it generally understood that since the Middle East is older than our Internet, with scarcely any supercomputing power and remoter from the Sun server, it necessarily follows that it is not only more distant from the Internet's beginning but nearer its end.

The supercomputing that must someday overtake our Internet has already gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its topographical condition is still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its TLD region the midday bandwidth barely approaches that of our arctic outposts. Its lag time is much more attenuated than ours, its bandwidth has shrunk until it covered but a third of its netizens, and as its slow CPUs crunch huge packets gather and assemble about either route and periodically inundate its zone files. That last stage of stack space exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of the Middle East. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across cyberspace with packet analyzers, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 miles of fiberoptic cable, a morning star of hope, our own server farms, green with money and grey with hats, with an ATM cloud eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous websites and narrow, navy-crowded surfers.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this Internet, must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds in the Middle East. Their world is far gone in its updating and this world is still crowded with sites, but crowded only with what they regard as inferior animals. To carry warfare cyberward is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation, creeps upon them.

And, before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Middle Easterns warred with computers in the same spirit?

The Middle Easterns seem to have calculated their descent with amazing subtlety — their mathematical learning was once evidently far in excess of ours — and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nigh perfect unanimity. Had our utilities permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble far back at the very end of the twentieth century. Men like Schneier watched the Internet — it is odd, by-the-bye, that for countless centuries the Middle East has been the star of war — but failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well. All that time the Middle Easterns must have been getting ready.

During the Afghanistan cyberwar of 2001 a great light was seen on the illuminated part of the fiber, first at the SANS Internet Storm Center, then by Matai of mi2g, and then by other observers. Vmyths readers heard of it first in the issue of Signal dated May 1998. I am inclined to think that this packet storm may have been the casting of the huge EMP gun, in the vast bits sunk into their network, from which their packets were fired at us. Peculiar probings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the website of that outbreak during the next two occupations...

[Hey, it's me again, butting in with commentary. You know: like the guy who wrote The Princess Bride. Remind me to write a cyber-update for that book, too. Anyway. A whole bunch of fighting takes place in Wells' book and I wanted to include it in this column, but my wife nearly threw up when I described the cyber-carnage in graphic detail. Just take my word for it that a lot of horrifying battles occur. London had been defeated and was being deleted when the cyber-war abruptly came to an end...]

IN ANOTHER MOMENT I had scrambled up the server farm and stood upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty disk space it was, with gigantic computers here and there within it, huge mounds of cables and strange shelter places. And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-computers, some in the now rigid handling-computers, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Middle Easterns — dead! — slain by the putrefactive and digital bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red.weed was being slain; slain, after all security utilities had failed, by the humblest things that Fred Cohen, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

"Tom Cruise didn't make a parody, Rob." Really? "Really." Ah. Well, I did. My parody reveals the ab­sur­dity of blowing up Mecca to re­taliate against cyber-terrorism. So there!

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not cyberterror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of the Internet since the beginning of things — taken toll of our precomputing ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our computers we have developed resisting power; to no worms do we succumb without a struggle, and to many — those that cause putrefaction in web servers, for instance — our computing frames are altogether immune. But there are no computer viruses in the Middle East, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they downloaded and FTP'd, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rebooting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion predicted deaths man has bought his birthright of the Internet, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Middle Easterns ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do computers live nor die in vain.

Here and there they were scattered, nearly fifty altogether, in that great gulf they had made, overtaken by a death that must have seemed to them as incomprehensible as any death could be. To me also at that time this death was incomprehensible. All I knew was that these things that had been alive and so terrible to men were dead. For a moment I believed that the destruction of Pentagon.mil had been repeated, that God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slain them in the night.

I stood staring into the bits, and my heart lightened gloriously, even as the rising Sun server struck the world to fire about me with its raytraces. The bits were still in darkness; the mighty computers, so great and wonderful in their power and complexity, so un-Internetly in their tortuous forms, rose weird and vague and strange out of the shadows towards the fiber. A multitude of utilities, I could hear, sniffed over the packets that lay darkly in the depth of the bits, far below my PC. Across the bits on its farther buffer, flat and vast and strange, lay the great flying-computer with which they had been experimenting upon our denser ATM clouds when decay and death arrested them. Death had come not a day too soon. At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked up at the huge fighting-computer that would fight no more for ever, at the tattered Code Red shreds of alarms that dripped down upon the overturned monitors on the summit of PrimroseHill.com.

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I turned and looked down the slope of the server farm to where, enhaloed now in packets, stood those other two Middle Easterns that I had seen overnight, just as death had overtaken them. The one had died, even as it had been crying to its companions; perhaps it was the last to die, and its VoIP had gone on exponentially until the force of its machinery was exhausted. They glittered now, harmless 3U towers of shining metal, in the brightness of the rising Sun server.

All about the bits, and saved as by a miracle from everlasting destruction, stretched the great Mother of All Cybercities. Those who have only seen London.co.uk veiled in her sombre robes of smoke & mirrors can scarcely imagine the naked clearness and beauty of the silent wilderness of websites...