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Enemy at the Gates

The end of the world is near, well almost, depending on who you listen to.

It’s a wet Sunday afternoon and I’m reading Mi2G’s most recent intelligence briefing (SIPS), over one hundred and twenty pages of information on the many different hack attacks that took place around the world in September. If you happen to be American or Brazilian, it makes unhappy reading and the UK happens to squeeze into fourth place in the league of most popular targets.

Last month, MI2G reports, happens to have been the worst month ever 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 appears to be following an unpleasant trend. The target 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. Either hacking is becoming a new mass participation sport or the evidence of recent months suggests that 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 and as one Islamic idealist, Faris Muhammed Al-Masri of UNITY states, “As information technology comes to rule every part of our life, it’s no longer necessary to destroy an electrical facility”.

This new political dimension to the challenge of digital security I find interesting. I happen to run an information resource for Middle-eastern governments, and last week, I found myself on CNBC, warning that any new conflict in the middle-east may have some unforeseen economic consequences and having toured the region this year, lecturing on the ‘cyberchology of conflict’, I found that 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 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 eBusiness and eGovernment. I should add at this point, that the Government, in March of this year, admitted that it faces an average of 84 attacks each week and that between 1st January 1999 and 29th 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 ‘Trustworthy Computing’ and 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?

Will the Internet succumb to the pressure of the code-wielding barbarians at its gates? What do you think?


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