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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Compumetrically speaking

George C. Smith, Ph.D., Editor-at-large
Wednesday, 28 November 2001

ACHTUNG READERS! LOOKS like eventually we're going to have pay people more than slightly above minimum wage to do airport security in America.

Why do the Code Red police get paid more than airline security folks? What makes them superior to the poor nebbishes who stare at airport X-ray machines?

What's this have to do with computer security? Well, raise your hand if you think any line security checker at an airport in the U.S. gets paid more than any computer security employee you know.

Didn't think there would be any takers.

Maybe the nation ought to consider paying air security workers comparably to those on information technology details. More money for airport security, maybe less for the Code Red police. That would be such a crime.

Why do the Code Red police get paid more than airline security folks?

Part of it is a class thing expressed by the American techno-jerk idea that anyone who works with computers is automatically more skilled, smarter, worthy, better, faster, than anyone who doesn't. It helps if you're young, too. If you use computers, speak in tongues and you're young, you're super — I mean really omnipotent, a green-haired vizier of the wired intelligentsia.

If you're using a computer to distinguish Code Reds or Nimdas from operating system code at midnight, you're automatically greatly superior to the poor nebbishes in the employ of Argenbright who have to look at X-ray screens of baggage at midnight, trying to distinguish small weapons or explosives from the detritus of American household items.

Makes sense to me! Ha ha! Poor schnooks. They can't afford lobbyists. Heck, lobbyists wouldn't even want to work for them. They have no money to spend! No one pays airline security workers much and if no one pays you much in America, this means you are stupid because everyone knows the national putdown: "If you're so smart, howcum you ain't rich!" And not-rich people — for example, the lower classes, the working elderly, people lacking money for professional representation, people who don't have an office with a network of computers — well, their work is low-rent because it's not involved with computers and therefore it requires no brains.

Not like computer security. Let them eat cake.

(Exception: Dot-com and assorted high-tech failures casualties. You were young and smart when you worked security at Amazon or Yahoo or Network Associates or iDefense or someplace during the time of Great Euphoria and your stock options were worth $250,000 but now that you are laid off, you are stupid because your stock is worth zero and you work weekends as a clerk at Radio Shack and don't manipulate as many important computers. You are in the same boat as airline security workers. Although you did work with computers and your hair was chartreuse, now you no longer work with the right computers and the dress code made you change your hair to a more natural color.)

WANT MORE PROOF about how stupid? When was the last time you saw someone who actually worked in a line at LAX or Logan or Dulles asked to testify before Congress about how things might be improved? When was the last time you saw them get asked for their opinion on a nightly news network?

If you work in computer security and you have green hair, then your Congressman will invite you on C-SPAN.
If you work in airport security and you have green hair, then your Congressman will scan you with a Geiger counter.

But the last time you saw someone testify on computer security before Congress? Yesterday! Even today, maybe!

The expert probably said something about computers and young people or nation states and asymmetry. Or biometrics. Note: biometrics is hot with computer security types because it's simple to wave the word around while guaranteeing magical results that can't be delivered. You know, for instance:

"Our software/hardware turnkey solution is error free, it works at the speed of light, it catches all known criminals in our database and a lot of others, too, but they probably were scofflaws and troublemakers, anyway; and, best of all, even if it can't identify people who haven't already been fingered for something, like lots of terrorists, it uses Fourier-transformative algorithms, mass action kinetics, the ideal gas law, heuristic matching, artificial real-time collective emergent intelligence, quantum computing, checksum error correction, a binary emulation of the Dirac equation, fault tolerant graceful distributed degradation of network data transfer and many things you couldn't possibly hope to understand because you're not technical — plus our really bright guys with multi-colored hair spent many hours working on it so you know it's gotta be whole lots better than any middle-aged, lower-class schlep toiling away in a minimum wage job."

But for those of you too far out of position to benefit from the biometrics craze or in the grip of economic contraction, you need someone to speak for your interests now, too! Or you'll be permanently stuck in low-pay-and-lay-off limbo like the airline security workers. Now is not the time slackness in the spine and weakness in the knees. You need to gin up a suspicious fear of the power of terrorist computing so that other middle-men don't hog all the action when national imperatives transfer some of the wealth formerly on track for the virtual world to physical security.

Don't have a scenario or the right quotes? OK. I am in your corner! Here's something for your fax machine. Send it to the news media. Cut and paste. Use it royalty free!

The enemy could be anyone. Even a single 14-year-old can do damage. Computers are a poor man's weapon! Doing something as simple as manipulating the online sales systems of a Defense Department vendor could create chaos. The military could think they ordered ammunition, but when they opened up the crates they might find sneakers instead of a 'Daisy Cutter' bomb!

Seven and a half tons of sneakers! The war effort could be seriously compromised!

Actually, Vmyths took most of this from a recent Washington Post article, but it's sufficiently brainless that it should work for you. No one will guess it is plagiarized. It's reasonable to assume it could even be utilized at the same newspaper, magazine or wire service, like Reuters, more than once.

Wait. Here's another:

The Nimda computer virus made its way around the globe late last month and hit the upscale Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax County, Va., especially hard. It wormed its way into the county's computer network, forcing a shutdown. Even worse glitches were mounting up. Library patrons couldn't renew books compumetrically. Property taxes couldn't be paid. Job seekers were out of luck. Residents couldn't even report lost pets!

Now that will really get the attention of editors. Pets lost to attack by computer virus! Will the fiends show no mercy!

Or how about doing something even more substantive? Here's a cheer for changing the Freedom of Information Act — a real proactive measure in the war on terror. Again, it's royalty free:

Let's change FOIA! Let's change FOIA! To info-share, o-boy-uh!
Let's change FOIA! Let's change FOIA! So our clients it won't annoy-uh!
Let's change FOIA! Let's change FOIA! For Bob and Dick to enjoy-uh!

THERE'S MUCH MORE to pass out, intelligence so red hot it begs for immediate nation-wide dissemination. Vmyths is giving it away! Heck, your editor-at-large gets at least five scoops a day. Satisfaction guaranteed! This stuff has already been proven to work for someone else, in some similar form, at least once! It's been vetted by Vmyths so now go and make them work for you!

Compumetrically: the unspoken assumption that computer attacks can cause explosions, mass poisonings, extensive physical damage and the like through vaguely described convergent cascades of fuzzy technology-tripped badness.
Usage: The enormous blast that leveled Pasadena and blew burning debris into the San Gabriel mountains had been ignited compumetrically through the Internet by bin Laden terrorists striking at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, the President told a shocked nation on the evening news.

-- The Joseph K Guide to Tech Terminology

Over the past two years, computer worms, viruses and other cyberattacks have become both more frequent and more devastating, wiping out hard drives and Web sites across the globe!

Troublemakers could wreak havoc with vital computer networks that link to the Internet — from water works to banking systems to the electrical grid. A malicious hacker could add fluoride, perhaps, compumetrically. Too much fluoride can make your teeth look speckled after a while. The condition is called fluoridosis.

'And there's always the risk that someone could slip into a nuclear plant or a dam,' warned Jack Hoff, computer security dean at the International School for High Tech Theorizing about Terror and Danger.

And here are even more giveaways!

During the Kosovo air campaign, Serbian cyber attacks shut down NATO's worldwide Web server. This is just one example of how conflict is spreading from the physical to the cyber world. The United States must keep this in mind in its war on terrorism. The U.S. Defense Department and other government agencies are becoming increasingly vulnerable to such attacks, but there are ways to meet these threats, said [put your name here], a computer terror expert from Jarndyce & Jarndyce, LLC, a high-tech risk assessment consultancy.


Despite numerous well-publicized computer break-ins and crimes, U.S. society remains dangerously vulnerable to hacker attacks on computer and communications networks, experts warn. Lucas Cornholt, a former counter-terrorism expert at the FBI said, 'picture a computer or communications version of the World Trade Center bombing — a disaster that brings down, say, computer or telephone networks on which society depends. Given the resources of Osama bin Laden, you can imagine the kind of damage he could do with computers.'


Whiteman air force base in Missouri is on 'red alert.' The operation involves the dispatch of heavily armed aircraft to bomb targets in Afghanistan. The bomber pilots are waiting, engines ready, for the JDAMS to be loaded but an unforeseen event interrupts the mission: At the last minute, crew members suddenly notice that, instead of bombs, all the munitions storage igloos are stocked with electric lighters!

Kept secret at all costs, the complete collapse of the Pentagon's supply system occurred recently and was ingeniously characterized as 'the electronic Pearl Harbor.' Its perpetrators were a group of hackers who, in record time, had incapacitated the logistical system of the armed forces.


'Prior to 9/11,' said National Security Council cyber-guru Dr. Ignatz Veeblefetzer, 'there were a lot of people who thought that the only thing the terrorists could do is what they have already done. Now we know they can do something really catastrophic.'

'The worst case here,' said Veeblefetzer, 'is that we might not be able to compumetrically communicate for essential government services. And it might happen at a time when we're at war. It might happen at a time when we're responding to terrorism.' Prowling his office, Dr. Veeblefetzer used a multicolored flowchart to describe a secure government communications system that would have its own routers, keeping it segregated from other computer users.

Dr. Veeblefetzer envisions a system that would be strictly monitored and constantly scanned for viruses. 'You would find abuse of the system early, you would limit it, you would stop it, thus averting surprising catastrophic damage,' he said.


Government officials are warning that cyberattacks are likely as retribution for the United States campaign in Afghanistan, and at the same time, computer security experts are seeing increasingly numerous and more powerful attacks from traditional hackers.

Frank N. Furter, an expert on terrorism at the Center for the Study of Potential Mass Death or Really Serious Trouble, said during Congressional testimony in October that cybersecurity was a gaping hole in the nation's infrastructure defense plans.

'While bin Laden may have his finger on the trigger,' said Furter, 'his grandson might have his finger on the mouse.' Electronic transfers of money, distribution of electrical power, the responses of emergency services and military command and control are at risk.

Much of this is often dismissed as scaremongering. No longer! Agnes Potrzebie, an eminent professor of computer science, said she was a skeptic until Sept. 11. 'Now I feel a little bit more humbled,' Potrzebie said. 'You don't know what will compumetrically surprise us next.'

When was the last time Congress invited a bleary-eyed X-ray worker to testify on airport security? When was the last time you saw an airport X-ray worker get asked for their opinion on a nightly news network?

Remember readers! All of these freebies are guaranteed to work because they have been compumetrically verified as effective within the national press. Vmyths provides this service because we care.

END NOTE: ALERT readers will notice liberal usage of the word compumetrically. Discussions of computer-based attacks on the nation's infrastructure have heretofore been reliant upon an unspoken assumption that computer attacks can cause explosions, mass poisonings, extensive physical damage and the like through vaguely described convergent cascades of fuzzy technology-tripped badness. Vmyths coined the word compumetrically to bridge this gap in the English language.

Usage: The enormous blast that leveled Pasadena and blew burning debris into the San Gabriel mountains had been ignited compumetrically through the Internet by bin Laden terrorists striking at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, the President told a shocked nation on the evening news.

''Osama bin Virus!'' comedy album