The Fog of Cyberwar

A recent Bruce Schneier blog posting drew my attention to a report of a revelation by a US Army Colonel that “EMP grenade technology is out there, but I’ve never had my hands on one”. The comments on this particular posting are typical of the topic, generally casting doubt on both the capability and usefulness of such a device.

It’s always been this way. The national security space attracts a good deal of spin, doubt and uninformed speculation, especially when it comes to anything to do with the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s not just conspiracy. Vendors with vested interest tend to exaggerate the merits and capability of new technology. And many exotic techniques are next to useless because there are easier ways of achieving the desired objective.

In the early nineties, rumors circulated amongst the London security community that electromagnetic weapons might be used to extort money from banks. I asked several expert authorities for an opinion. The responses were all contradictory, ranging from “There’s no such weapon” to “I’ve seen one demonstrated and they’re very effective”. The most believable answer was “The technology does exist but it’s hit and miss”. The safest response was “I can’t talk about that subject over the phone”. But the real learning point is that you should never believe in the existence of anything that you haven’t seen with your own eyes.

 

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