Oh, By the Way, All-Out Cyberwar Is Breaking Out
Shortly before I wrote this idiosyncratic article — arguing that while most of Obama’s “czar” positions were unnecessary, that there were some strong arguments for having a cyber-czar, or one person who is the point person on protecting our national infrastructure — I had a chance to talk to some really smart people who deal with these issues inside and outside of government. They have clearances, and didn’t want to be quoted, and to be honest, I think I probably understood about every third sentence or so. But I did grasp that while a lot of what can be done through cyber-attack is often less lethal than the traditional terrorism of car bombs and hijacked planes, the bad news is that the lower body count and vaguer economic and psychological consequences make cyber-warfare a more tempting form of attack. A country that fires a missile at a U.S. military base has effectively declared war and can expect severe consequences; but a country that causes intermittent communications disruptions at that base is in a murkier area. Would the U.S. make a non-cyber response to a strictly cyber intrusion? Do you drop a bomb on a target if they’ve only broken into your computer?
At the time, I noted ominously, “Current policymakers are not fluent in this world. President Obama may use a special Blackberry, but the world of cyber security is as new to him as it is to most of us. You could see this in his expression as he discussed the ‘whole new vocabulary’ required ‘just to stay ahead of the cyber criminals who would do us harm — spyware and malware and spoofing and phishing and botnets,’ and also in his gaffe (or Freudian slip?) that the CIA handled the response when ‘hackers gained access to [his campaign] e-mails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans.’ Lawmakers have tough jobs — they have to be on top of a lot of complicated and ever-changing topics, from good places to organize a photo op of Air Force One to the level of danger presented by international air travel during an outbreak of swine flu. But very few lawmakers attain their positions at the highest levels of the executive branch or Congress due to their familiarity with computer networks and cyber-security issues.”
I’m reminded of all this with the latest our-world-has-gone-insane development in WikiLeaks Saga: “The website and personal credit card information of former Gov. Sarah Palin were cyber-attacked today by Wikileaks supporters, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate tells ABC News in an email. Hackers in London that the Palin team believe to be affiliated with ‘Operation Payback’ — a group of supporters of Julian Assange and Wikileaks — have tried to shut down SarahPac and have disrupted Sarah and Todd Palin’s personal credit card accounts, SarahPAC aide Rebecca Mansour said. ‘No wonder others are keeping silent about Assange’s antics,’ Palin emailed ABC News. ‘This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts.’”
At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson wonders when the heck the good guys are going to get into the game: “Throughout the day WikiLeaks supporters have been mounting denial of service attacks against Mastercard, PayPal, Visa, and others deemed to have impeded WikiLeaks. Reportedly, these supporters have disclosed large files containing Mastercard account numbers and expiration dates. But don’t call it Cyberwar, you might offend some people. And of course, the government of the United States is standing idly by, twiddling its thumbs and dawdling. And Eric Holder? He’s still reading the Instruction Manual for Attorney General.”
Allahpundit shudders, “The ‘Net’s becoming a freefire DDOS zone, which makes it hard to keep track of who’s firing each of the bullets. Assuming he’s right, though, I don’t see how Wikileaks benefits from the effort. Sixty percent already think the group has harmed the public interest by revealing diplomatic cables; that number will go up when they’re inevitably blamed, rightly or wrongly, for all the site attacks. Jack Shafer at Slate said yesterday that those verrry shady Swedish sex charges would end up benefiting Assange ultimately because people will sympathize with him and rally to his side. Maybe, but the DDOS wars will achieve the opposite.”
These pro-WikiLeaks hackers aren’t all that big into long-term strategic thinking, but then again, most folks aren’t. They want to lash out at their enemies, real or perceived, and show off that they can mess with powerful entities. I’m reminded of Nicholas Cage’s rant in The Rock: “What is wrong with these people, huh? Mason? Don’t you think there’s a lot of, uh, a lot of anger flowing around this island? Kind of a pubescent volatility? Don’t you think? A lotta angst, a lot of ‘I’m sixteen, I’m angry at my father’ syndrome? I mean grow up! . . . SHAME ON THEM!”