Cyber-Scare - The exaggerated fears over digital warfare

Cyber-Scare - The exaggerated fears over digital warfare
Cyber-Scare - The exaggerated fears over digital warfare

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By Evgeny Morozov
Boston Review
July/August 2009

The age of cyber-warfare has arrived. That, at any rate, is the message 
we are now hearing from a broad range of journalists, policy analysts, 
and government officials. Introducing a comprehensive White House report 
on cyber-security released at the end of May, President Obama called 
cyber-security =E2=80=9Cone of the most serious economic and national security 
challenges we face as a nation.=E2=80=9D His words echo a flurry of gloomy 
think-tank reports. The Defense Science Board, a federal advisory group, 
recently warned that =E2=80=9Ccyber-warfare is here to stay,=E2=80=9D and that it will 
=E2=80=9Cencompass not only military attacks but also civilian commercial 
systems.=E2=80=9D And =E2=80=9CSecuring Cyberspace for the 44th President,=E2=80=9D prepared by 
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests that 
cyber-security is as great a concern as =E2=80=9Cweapons of mass destruction or 
global jihad.=E2=80=9D

Unfortunately, these reports are usually richer in vivid metaphor=E2=80=94with 
fears of =E2=80=9Cdigital Pearl Harbors=E2=80=9D and =E2=80=9Ccyber-Katrinas=E2=80=9D=E2=80=94than in factual 

Consider a frequently quoted CIA claim about using the Internet to cause 
widespread power outages. It derives from a public presentation by a 
senior CIA cyber-security analyst in early 2008. Here is what he said:

    We have information, from multiple regions outside the United 
    States, of cyber-intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion 
    demands. We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of these 
    attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge. We have information 
    that cyber-attacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in 
    several regions outside the United States. In at least one case, the 
    disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do 
    not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved 
    intrusions through the Internet.

So =E2=80=9Cthere is information=E2=80=9D that cyber-attacks =E2=80=9Chave been used.=E2=80=9D When? 
Why? By whom? And have the attacks caused any power outages? The CIA may 
have some classified information, but very little that is unclassified 
suggests that such cyber-intrusions have occurred.

Or consider an April 2009 Wall Street Journal article entitled 
=E2=80=9CElectricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies.=E2=80=9D The article quotes no 
attributable sources for its starkest claims about cyber-spying, names 
no utility companies as victims of intrusions, and mentions just one 
real cyber-attack, which occurred in Australia in 2000 and was conducted 
by a disgruntled employee rather than an external hacker.


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