Thought for the day: Don't worry about cyber-terrorism

Since the start of the conflict in Iraq, the number of web attacks has risen. Simon Moores argues we should be more concerned...

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Since the start of the conflict in Iraq, the number of web attacks has risen. Simon Moores argues we should be more concerned about real threats.




After a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on the No 10 website this week, the familiar argument arose again that if Mr Blair had more faith in open-source apache rather than internet information server, the symbolic heart of government wouldn’t be interrupted by protests of this kind.

I asked Microsoft’s UK chief security officer Stuart Okin, whether protecting a web server from a DDoS attack involves rather more than simply parking an armed Penguin at the front door?

He replied that any environment requires the presence of a good security policy which integrates "people, process and technology", a foundation principle of Microsoft’s own Trustworthy Computing strategy.

This month the Mi2G intelligence service reported a dramatic increase in the number of web attacks since the start of the military campaign against Iraq. It predicted that March may well become the worst month for digital attacks since records began in 1995.

What I find most interesting is that 71% of all digital attacks recorded to date this month are against Linux systems, and only 24% involve Microsoft Windows.

Forget mass protest, DDoS can prove much more effective as a nuisance to the authorities and it doesn’t involve carrying a banner on a bus ride to the nearest city or even country where you might wish to stage your protest.

Whether you choose to place your faith in God, Apache or IIS is debatable, even if enough effort and intellect are concentrated against your server.

This, of course, would have to be fully patched and up to date if it were to offer even token resistance against being "pinged to death" or attacked with a library of other exploits, many of which I can find on my latest "Tiger Tools" CD.

As government comes to rely increasingly on technology, it becomes more vulnerable to the threat of interruption.

Before the arrival of the PC, the old way of running a country was painfully slow and marginally less efficient than it is today, but the essential command and control systems could always function by post or by telephone.

Interrupt the Inland Revenue’s systems for 24 hours or more in the information age and the mind boggles at the chaos that might follow.

I believe that Mi2G is going completely over the top, warning us that: “There is no doubt about the linkages between physical terrorism and waves of digital attacks that act as a barometer of negative sentiment. It should not come as a surprise if US, UK or Australian assets are attacked by terrorists anywhere in the world in the coming days and weeks."

Rather like the threat of weapons of mass destruction I have yet to see any real evidence of link between terrorism and digital risk. I see lots of evidence of protest moving "web-side" as an intelligent manifestation of popular feeling, but no sign of Ernst Stavro Blofeld or some other shadowy Bond character out there preparing to bring the country to its knees with an attack on UK-Online.

Microsoft’s chief security strategist Scott Charney sums up his opinion on cyber-terrorism by remarking:

“First, it's not actually so easy to bring down the networks. There's a lot of redundancy and a lot of resiliency. Second, it doesn't create the kind of graphic pictures that terrorists often want. Third, it doesn't create the kind of fear that terrorists want.”

Instead, the best that cyber-warriors can do is pick on the relatively soft target of the No 10 website, which is far more likely to draw applause from the population than leave them in fear of the prospect of cyber-terrorism.

Let’s be honest. This month we should all be more worried by things that go bang than by things that go buzz but employing a Penguin as a defensive measure may not be the most effective means of defending 10 Downing St from the reach of world opinion.

What do you think?

Do you think the threat of cyber-terrorism has been hyped?  Tell us in an e-mail>> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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