Thought for the day:Terror on the Web

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.I'm sitting here trying to write a...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.I'm sitting here trying to write a report. It has a rather dry title: Confidence in the computing environment and its implications for public sector strategy and security policy. It doesn't quite have the pace of Andy McNab, or even Tom Clancy, and I seem to have found rather more villains than heroes hidden in the text. This is only to be expected. Month by month, confidence appears to decline as the incidence of attack on all systems continues to increase.

This week's Wall Street Journal story on how al-Qaeda subverted the Internet comes as no great surprise to anyone who has been tracking the security bulletins over recent weeks and months.

The evidence suggests that hacking and all the many different forms of information crime - cybercrime, if you like - have become increasingly politicised over the past 12 months, especially since the escalation of violence on the West Bank in April.

The Internet is emerging as a cheap and powerful delivery system, capable of great disruptive power over long distances. It offers minimal risk to any individual or group wishing to illustrate the strength of its argument with direct confrontation against companies or governments.

So, is the keyboard replacing the Kalashnikov? Well . . .

Retreating into the world of fiction, this is possibly true where the communications infrastructure is concerned. Parachute a few skilled al-Qaeda sympathisers into selected jobs in the Internet, finance or telecoms sector and I'm sure the result could be worthy of a Tom Clancy novel.

Will the terrorists become Internet savvy and come after our critical infrastructure? It's always possible, but I suspect that the Web doesn't offer the noisy, high-impact visual attention that groups such as al-Qaeda crave.

Instead, I think that much of this political activity will remain broadly regional, with groups like the Iron Guards hackers, who have attacked Israeli Web sites, and the Taiwanese and the mainland Chinese hacker groups who have also been slogging it out in cyberspace.

As it's going to take at least another two more years before Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" strategy really starts to have a pull-through effect on information security at all levels, it's my guess that we should reasonably expect an Internet equivalent of the Titanic to occur somewhere within the next 12 to 18 months.

Whether this could be the consequence of some kind of political motive, or whether it may be simply a malicious experiment is largely irrelevant, but like some steadily approaching asteroid threat, there's very little chance of preventing the impact or, at the very least, a near miss.

And, as in the days following 11 September, we will probably regard the question of Internet security in "before and after" terms as a consequence.

What is your view?
How confident are you about security in today's computing environment? Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. 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.
This was last published in November 2002

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