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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Computer warfare?

There is an excellent, fairly all-encompassing article in this week's New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh about "cyber war" and what it it and is not and the recent history of it all.

It brings up so many points.

Did you know that the country's first "Cyber Czar", so to speak, is a graduate of--ulp--the online "University of Phoenix"?  Yow.  It's old news, too, that he was far from the President's first pick for the job.  Get this--he came to the job from his position as head of security at e-bay.

Yikes.

Not to belittle the man or his capabilities since I don't know him but here you go:

In theory, the fight over whether the Pentagon or civilian agencies should be in charge of cyber security should be mediated by President Obama’s co√∂rdinator for cyber security, Howard Schmidt—the cyber czar. But Schmidt has done little to assert his authority. He has no independent budget control and in a crisis would be at the mercy of those with more assets, such as General Alexander. He was not the Administration’s first choice for the cyber-czar job—reportedly, several people turned it down. The Pentagon adviser on information warfare, in an e-mail that described the lack of an over-all policy and the “cyber-pillage” of intellectual property, added the sort of dismissive comment that I heard from others: “It’s ironic that all this goes on under the nose of our first cyber President. . . . Maybe he should have picked a cyber czar with more than a mail-order degree.” (Schmidt’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the University of Phoenix.)

And here's an issue:
The Department of Homeland Security recently signed a memorandum with the Pentagon that gives the military authority to operate inside the United States in case of cyber attack.

The Department of Homeland Security just handed over the country in times of computer attack, to the military, just like that.

That's bad enough, since it puts the military in control of the country, but who decides if we're "under attack"? 

What really becomes apparent is that any future "cyber attack" or "cyber war" should not and cannot be looked on through any prism of our past experience, it would seem.  Most countries and people go into the "next war" or next conflict, assuming it will be like the past, as is so commonly known.  This kind of attack would certainly take us into realms we've absolutely never experienced.

The good things?

For one, the article points out that the openness of the web creates lots of safeguards--like between power grids across the country, for example. 

Additionally, an attack meant for one computer can go elsewhere quickly and attack things it isn't meant to--again, due to that openness--as we recently found with the Stuxnet virus. 

Third, it's not like the Chinese, for instance, would necessarily want our system--our country--to "go down" since they own us, Wall Street and all.  Most all of the world is in this together.

Here's a shocker, to me:  A retired four-star Navy admiral, who spent much of his career in signals intelligence, said that Russia, France, Israel, and Taiwan conduct the most cyber espionage against the U.S. “I’ve looked at the extraordinary amount of Russian and Chinese cyber activity,” he told me, “and I am hard put to it to sort out how much is planning for warfare and how much is for economic purposes.”


Israel?  Our "ally"?  Spying on us?  And that much?  The country who wouldn't exist, but for the US?

And Taiwan??  Who we're supposed to defend, if they were attacked by China?  Nice.

It's not a complete surprise but it does get me some.

Finally, then, there is this:
Jeffrey Carr, a Seattle-based consultant on cyber issues, looked into state and non-state cyber espionage throughout the recent conflicts in Estonia and Georgia. Carr, too, said he was skeptical that China or Russia would mount a cyber-war attack against the United States. “It’s not in their interest to hurt the country that is feeding them money,” he said.

Hopefully that can be the good news out of all this--we're all in this together.

Maybe that's what can and will save us. 

Humankind will have "learned" something after all.



But then, there's always the anarchic terrorists who don't operate by rules.

Or sanity.

Link to original post: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/11/01/101101fa_fact_hersh?currentPage=1

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