Thought for the day:Hacked to death?

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.The end of the world is near. Well...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.The end of the world is near. Well almost, depending on who you listen to, what you read and who you like to believe.

I'm reading mi2g's most recent intelligence briefing, over 120 pages of information from its Security Intelligence Products and Systems (SIPS) database, on the numerous hack attacks that took place around the world in September.

It makes unhappy reading if you happen to be American or Brazilian, and the UK squeezes into fourth place in the league of most popular targets.

Last month, according to the mi2g report, was the worst month for digital attacks: "11,080 in all bringing the cumulative for the first nine months of 2002 to 42,185, already 34.7% greater than the whole of 2001".

If that isn't bad enough, then each month appears to be breaking new records and October is set to follow an unpleasant trend. The target systems on an almost three-to-one basis are, of course, Windows installations over Linux, defying the industry's best efforts to lock down known vulnerabilities in the two most popular operating systems. It seems hacking is either becoming a new mass participation sport or, as recent evidence suggests, we are steadily losing the battle against the hackers.

What was new or at least different last month, was the association between hacking and "political tension" or "digital warfare; espionage, surveillance and reconnaissance". Increasingly, asymmetric warfare over the Internet is seen as an effective means of striking back against political interests.

I find this new political dimension to the challenge of digital security interesting. Now I happen to run an information resource for Middle Eastern governments ( Last week, I found myself on CNBC, warning that any new conflict in the Middle East may have some unforeseen economic consequences.

Having toured the region this year, lecturing on the "cyberchology of conflict", I found hacking, and the opportunity of learning hacking skills, to be almost as popular as football.

I don't wish to take an alarmist view of the statistics because I believe that warnings about the Internet threat to anyone's national infrastructure are exaggerated out of proportion in relation to the risk.

What exists, I believe, is a massive nuisance factor, which compromises our increasingly connected world and presents a costly and negative argument against the march of both e-business and e-government. I should add at this point, that the Government, in March this year, admitted that it faces an average of 84 attacks each week and that between 1 January 1999 and 29 January 2002, Government departments reported 13,146 hacking attempts, of which ten resulted in sensitive data being disclosed or compromised.

So what's the answer? If the truth be told, we haven't found one yet. The vendors may make confident statements about security. Both government and big business will seek to reassure us that everything is under control. But in a speech I'll be making at a meeting in the House of Commons this week, I'll be asking whether we have lost the ability to control the architecture of trust on which this new Internet economy floats.

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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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