Truth About Computer Security Hysteria
The thing in the maze
George C. Smith, Ph.D.,
Wednesday, 11 July 2001
STANISLAW LEM'S SCIENCE fiction novel, "Memoirs Found in a Bathtub," tells the story of a future in which one man is driven to suicide after wandering endlessly in a maze of which Daedalus would be proud, loosely set up as an allegory of the Department of Defense.
It reads: "the reader will witness how the fanatical servants of Kap-Eh-Taal created the myth of the Antibuilding, how they spent their lives in mutual surveillance, in tests of loyalty and devotion to the Mission, even when the last figment of the Mission's reality had become an impossibility and nothing remained but to sink ever deeper into the pit of collective madness." The Antibuilding is the amorphous enemy of Lem's Pentagon — the adversary, the Minotaur, the "asymmetric threat."
Inside this military-industrial über-bunker-gone-mad everyone is suffering from delusions. Inconsequential events are seized upon and stretched like hot taffy into everlasting fantasies, collective hallucinations which serve no purpose except as a fertilizer for the growing of more paranoia. Questioning the nature of them is pointless. Common sense never intrudes.
Vmyths.com believes the essence of the satire, written in 1973, is closer than not to our actual state of affairs in 2001.
While "the Antibuilding" hasn't been seen in the news, monkey-men roam the virtual streets — nameless Russians, the legions of Dr. Fu Man-Tzu, invisibles and "nation-states" not in the West — any with computer scientists and information warriors.
The spray of lowering rhetoric which issued from the Joint Economic Committee in June went around the world in a flash, immediately resulting in a mirroring publicity in foreign lands. On the 28th, Moscow Trud published an article entitled "US, Russian Concern Over Threat of Information Warfare, Hacking Detailed — Computers on the Attack: Cyberwars Already Are Being Depicted on Staff Maps."
Russian or Chinee monkey-men were possibly responsible for aiming cyber-weapons at the electronic Ruhr, was the message out of JEC, delivered via multiple sources. But in the Russian news, it was:
labyrinth: (n.) 1a. a place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys... 2. something extremely complex or tortuous in structure, arrangement, or character.
-- Merriam-Webster's online dictionary
Deputy Space Command Lieutenant General Edward Anderson tried to calm the congressmen. His subordinates also are actively preparing for a conflict with the enemy in cyberspace. All this could have served as a rather good beginning for a science-fiction novel about future wars had not computer weapons already become a menacing reality...
[An] information war scenario was tested in an exercise at Fort Leavenworth in May of last year. The exercise director, General Thomas Moorman, was left satisfied: according to him, the electronic system that had been created simply 'crushed' the conditional enemy, and war can be won with its help before it begins.
The article goes on to paraphrase a Russian general on how "[the] appearance of a new ... area of confrontation is capable of provoking the beginning of the next spiral of the arms race."
As far as information warfare articles goes, aside from the de rigueur claims about the ease with which oil refineries can be blown up at the flick of an Internet switch, the enemy digitally crushed, the "insidious electronic computer viruses" made more cheaply and easily (read: more dangerous) than nuclear explosives, the report from Moscow Trud labored to achieve some balance in that it stacked up the nutty comments of American leaders right alongside the equally so utterances of their Russian counterparts.
"Mr. President, we must not allow a Net worm gap!"
-- General Hapster "Happy" Hogan, "Doktor Virusliebe," VMYTHS FILMS (in development)
BY CONTRAST, THE mainstream media from the land of the free has translated "freedom of the press" on this topic as freedom to publish only the really exaggerated U.S.-security-centric side.
One example of the really exaggerated was mentioned in Moscow Trud. As back-translated by the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, it came out as the ongoing story of Moonlight Labyrinth. It was an accidental but poetic twist on Moonlight Maze — the labyrinthine and agonized Department of Defense tale of the ransacking of American military networks for ill-defined intellectual treasure.
LabyrinthMaze is one of the true undead in the crypt of nightmarish DoD hacking monster stories. Since 1999, it has risen again and again in the mainstream media. And while it has proven impossible to stake, it has gone wanting for the same immediately blood-sucking cachet of another great ghost story of our time — Wen Ho Lee's alleged passing of the crown jewels of U.S. nuclear weapon design to the Chinee.
(Perhaps this is because there is no human factor to it, no convenient straw creature to string up on the front page of the New York Times. Moonlight Maze has never been particularly congenial to TV news. It has no stern-faced vision of authority as galvanic as the Cox Commission, no haggard Wen Ho Lee to videotape being dragged in and out of buildings in shackles — just the faceless dark.)
But it is coming at you again, anyway, courtesy of Utah Senator Bob Bennett who has recently been citing it as rationalization for why the Freedom of Information Act must be altered. (Bennett and Arizona Senator John Kyl promise legislation soon.) The idea, in this case, being that with FOIA amended, corporate America will rush with mad joy to share information on computer break-ins and security screw-ups with Uncle Sam, thereby immediately making unfolding Moonlight Mazes, or whatever our government chooses to call them, more efficiently shared secrets.
Aside: Think about that. How does one measure the effectiveness of a more efficiently shared secret?
So, with the way theoretically cleared and protected for better sharing of secrets of possibly quite dubious value, the information spigots unclog, and everyone who has to know about Moonlight Mazes will know about them. Won't they?
Yeah! That's the plan!
Since 1999, all — and Vmyths.com does mean all stories about Moonlight Maze have been characterized by their reliance upon gossip and speculation; their complete lack of precise definition in the who, what and where categories (often rationalized by their existence as classified matters for discussion only behind closed doors); repetition, a preponderance of anonymous sources speculating or expostulating for journalists and screechy, florid claims about the dire consequences for national security.
"That's right! Info-may-shun com-bat! Toe-to-toe with the Russkies!"
-- Cmdr. Jimmy John Jameson, preparing to electronically drop the Blitzkrieg virus on Missile Complex #666, "Doktor Virusliebe," VMYTHS FILMS
BUT FIRST, WE'LL go back a bit in time, to the first quarter of 1999, to see how it crawled out of the woodwork.
In the first half of March of that year, Clinton Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre claimed the United States was in a cyberwar. In a story which ran in Defense Week magazine, reporters John Donnelly and Vince Crawley wrote that Hamre had shared the details of an ongoing cyber-attack with Curt Weldon, a Congressman well known for his extreme take on the nature of Net danger.
"We are at war right now," Hamre was said to have told Weldon — a war called Moonlight Maze. After a spate of stories logrolling on the Defense News notice, Moonlight Maze died away for awhile...
Then, in a London Sunday Times piece published four months later, Hamre's "we're in a cyberwar" quote was resurrected again to ring the bell for "electronic Pearl Harbor" in a story that implied Russian hackers were stealing U.S. information treasure via the Internet. Entitled "Russian Hackers Steal US Weapons Secrets," the article fantastically claimed: "the intelligence heist, that could cause damage to America in excess of that caused by Chinese espionage in nuclear laboratories, involved computer hacking over the past six months."
The London Sunday Times story was studded with anonymous government and military sources warning of great disaster. It maintained: "besides military computer systems, private research and development institutes have been plundered in the same operation. Such institutes are reluctant to discuss losses, which experts claim may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars."
The London newspaper wrote that secret documents had been stolen but that the U.S. military could not determine what was in them or which ones, precisely, had been stolen — which, with the hindsight of two years out, still makes very little sense.
The article speculated that either Russia or China could be behind the "cyberwar." Russia, because of NATO's "intervention in Yugoslavia"; China, because ... well, no one has ever needed an excuse to accuse the Chinee of something sinister.
At this point, Moonlight Maze rapidly took on the aspects of legend. Even though no substantive information had been published on it, another media cascade resulted in October 1999, built upon waves of copycat reporting and inconclusive statements about the affair made in a Congressional hearing the same month. At the time, Senator Bennett had used the context of the Congressional hearing and Moonlight Maze to propose an "electronic FEMA" to combat cyber-terror. All reports worked from a narrow script. Much like the London Sunday Times piece in July, they all said or wrote that an "anonymous" source in "the Pentagon" was telling them that "Russian hackers" were stealing DoD secrets. Maybe the secrets were vital, maybe they weren't. But it was still important stuff.
Even this was subject to wiggle.
"Like I said, Group Captain Sitzbath, Moonlight Maze is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Commie plot we have ever had to face. It mocks us, makes our efforts at security rancid. It is stealing and impurifying the precious bodily fluids of our networks!"
-- Major General Jack deHamma, "Doktor Virusliebe," VMYTHS FILMS
DEPENDING ON WHICH news reports one reads, the stolen information could be classified documents — or not — but always vital in an archly hush-hush way. Another common thread was the waffling equivocation that something classified could have been "stolen" but that there was no way to know for sure.
Newsweek's "We're In The Middle Of A Cyberwar" on September 13 was representative. No real news, but "Russian hackers may have pulled off what could be the most damaging breach ever of U.S. computer security..." The article concluded "the intruders haven't been spotted on [networks] since May 14. Have they given up their efforts or burrowed so deeply into the network that they can no longer even be traced?"
As the year came to a close, Moonlight Maze was added to the hellstorm of cyber-trouble said to be gathering off American waters at the end of the century. In addition to Russians stealing
nothingsecrets, programmers of foreign descent — more Russians, the ubiquitous Chinee, and Indians, too — were said to be installing backdoors and Trojan horses in the nation's precious software under cover as Y2K-bug remediators. Doomsday was the rollover. The saboteurs would activate their code, along with a horde of computer viruses for good measure, as a stealthy assault timed to coincide with the confusion caused by general Y2K-bug caused mayhem. It was a favorite prediction of Moonlight Maze-niks Bennett and Hamre.
(Need an example? How 'bout this one of many from November 1999: "We expect that [terrorists] will attempt to use Y2K as a cover for putting some kind of attack into a vulnerable place... That is, when a Y2K solution goes in, they will fly underneath that with an attack of their own that will shut the system down," said Bennett at a National Press Club event.)
While catastrophe went conspicuously missing at the dawn of 2000, Moonlight Maze still did not perish. Four months later, Steve Kroft and "60 Minutes" put it on display in "Cyber War" as part of a
pastiche of possible bad things which included refinery fires set by the Chinee, within whom The Fiend was allegedly quite strong, and the infrastructure held hostage by angry, i-war savvy Colombian drug lords.
The National Security Council. A generically twitchy computer savant in business as a salesman of cyber-terror prevention. A quote-unquote expert from the far right flogging a just published book on the national menace of choice — you guessed right — the Chinee.
Moonlight Maze will, in all likelihood, always be with us. In late June, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on it. There was an attempt at a name change. It is now said to have been reclassified as "Storm Cloud." Still no real news, however, even though the wailing remains the same. "The heist is 'equivalent to a stack of printed copier paper three times the height of the Washington Monument,'" said a sorta-kinda high-ranking general from the U.S. Air Intelligence Agency.
THE OBVIOUS QUESTIONS: How did he know it was so high? Was it printed out and measured with a meter stick? That's a big stack, Vmyths.com reckons. Hard to miss on the sky-line. How, oh how, did we overlook it as a nation? Will not someone remove the scales from our eyes before the coming of the Eschaton? And how much, exactly, is a pile of alleged "printed copier paper," three times the height of the Washington Monument, worth in terms of national security? Imponderable, presumably.
The rotten, panty-sniffers responsible? "
As a legend, Moonlight Maze has always had utility as a political Swiss army knife.
|The ChineeChina and Russia pose the deepest threats..."
What can be said in no uncertain terms is that as a legend, Moonlight Maze has always had utility as a political Swiss army knife. Since birth, it has been used to bolster Clinton administration requests for more money for computer security, used to cover a proposal for formation of a cyber-FEMA, used to explain why the Freedom of Information Act must be amended, used to momentarily suspend disbelief during discussions of the evil
that cyber-men do.