Cyberwar Or Moral Panic? Beware Of Ex-Politicians Screaming About Cyberthreats

from the let-it-go dept

For years and years we've been hearing about the supposed threats of "cyberwar" and "cyberterrosism." For nearly a decade we've questioned whether this was all hype, and the story hasn't changed. Sure, there are hackers and those who look to break into systems, but the real risks and overall threats still seem fairly minimal. But that's not enough for some people. Wired's Ryan Singel has a long, but excellent look at how former director of national intelligence (now consultant) Michael McConnell appears to be trying to build up a giant moral panic about this ill-defined threat, with the goal of basically ripping out the guts of today's internet to recreate it with almost no privacy at all. He recently claimed:
We need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment -- who did it, from where, why and what was the result -- more manageable
In other words, we need to be able to spy on everyone. To build up this moral panic, McConnell isn't even just getting the press to write articles for him -- he's doing it himself. The Washington Post recently gave him op-ed space to ridiculously claim that the recent hack on Google showed we're "losing the cyberwar." Yet, as Singel points out, that was entirely different. It wasn't warfare, it was espionage. McConnell also played up some bogus threats, such as some old viruses and botnets that are hardly part of some dangerous "cyberwar."

Singel then goes on to connect McConnell's efforts with various other political proposals lately -- suggesting that the government is moving towards more control of the internet and more monitoring. At times, unfortunately, the piece feels like it slips a bit into conspiracy theory territory -- but McConnell's efforts certainly appear questionable. He's pushing a bogus "threat" and he works for a company that could profit tremendously from any "response" to such a threat. That seems like a massive conflict of interest that a lot of people are ignoring.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Adam Turetzky (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 12:04am

    Media companies

    This also smacks of media companies wishes that the internet in its current form disappear so it can be better outfitted as a passive broadcast medium closer resembling cable TV.

    There's no cyberwar there's just the RIAA and the MPAA trying to prop back up their old business model.

     

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  2.  
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    Matthew, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 3:30am

    But it's for your safety...

    Yet again using fear to further take away our freedoms and control the masses.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 3:35am

    "we need to be able to spy on everyone"

    This kind of immature statement is indicative of someone who doesn't have any clue in the cyber defense arena. The advanced persistent threat is stealing intellectual and monetary capital which is the lifeblood of our nation. This is happening at corporations, banking institutions, R&D facilities, Government organizations, universities, etc. It is indeed a grave threat to our national security. Anyone that says it isn't has way to many false conspiracy theories in their head. Either pick up a nodal defense connection and help or get out of the way, because the cyber war is here and you're obviously not relevant in it.

     

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  4.  
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    Cro, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 3:54am

    *snigger*

    The US "director of national intelligence"...

    ... now there's an oxymoron! :)

     

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  5.  
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    kid mercury, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 4:27am

    thanks for covering this story, techdirt. great journalism as always.

    i do ask you to consider your usage of the term "conspiracy theory" and what it really means. for instance, a guy in a cave plotting with a dozen other cave dwellers to attack the USA is a conspiracy, and when it is lacked by any supporting facts, it is a theory -- hence a conspiracy theory. please note that conspiracies do in fact happen and things like gravity are also regarded as theories.

    keep up the great work, techdirt!

     

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  6.  
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    abc gum, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:03am

    Re: chicken little

    Dear Mr. McConnell,

    If the asset value is so high, why is it connected to the internet? The rational provided in your post is laughable at best and points out that it is you who are immature and ill informed.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:06am

    Why aren't the teabaggers protesting this obvious government takeover of their internets?

     

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  8.  
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    itchyfish, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:11am

    RE: "we need to be able to spy on everyone"

    I do work in this area, and have for many years. And, no, you do not need to spy on everyone, period. As a matter of fact, it's counter-productive. Your money is much better spent elsewhere, such as user training. Industrial espionage has been going on since the invention of business, and it will continue to do so as long a business exists. Spying on everyone isn't going to get rid of it and you're naive to think so.

     

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  9.  
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    iHateDishes, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:34am

    Re:

    Why Flame the author when you seem to be pretty comfortable not letting the world know who you are Mr. Anonymous Coward?

     

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  10.  
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    iHateDishes, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:34am

    Re:

    Why Flame the author when you seem to be pretty comfortable not letting the world know who you are Mr. Anonymous Coward?

     

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  11.  
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    yozoo, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:51am

    So what

    "He's pushing a bogus 'threat' and he works for a company that could profit tremendously from any 'response' to such a threat. That seems like a massive conflict of interest that a lot of people are ignoring."

    Ever heard of Dick Cheney?

     

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  12.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:53am

    Let me get this straight, a consultant in the computer security industry is trying to drum up security business? Isn't that what he's supposed to do?

    It's a good thing we have unbiased and professional news sources such as the Washington Post to help consultants scam the public.

     

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  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 6:42am

    Re:

    "a guy in a cave plotting with a dozen other cave dwellers to attack the USA is a conspiracy, and when it is lacked by any supporting facts, it is a theory"

    Actually, no. If there is a lack of supporting facts, it's a "conspiracy hypothesis." A "theory" is well-supported by facts.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 6:44am

    Actually I dont see this going to far ...

    The cost of upgrading all the networks to spy the way he wants makes it a non starter. Encryption and onion routing make his plan obsolete before it even starts.

     

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  15.  
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    Steve M, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 6:48am

    Dear Michael McConnell,

    I don't trust you. I don't trust anyone who wished to restrict my freedoms in order to protect my security.

    We were all had more freedom before 2001 when you and your ilk took down the WTC complex. I'll take the risks. You may go now.

    American Citizen

     

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  16.  
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    known coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 6:50am

    I think Mr. Fish has a point.

    A shill is a shill, is a shill, and McConnell is a shill. He is doing what he is suppose to be doing, drumming up business for his security busines. I am sure he has a location based solution he would like to sell to the goverments. Much like Al Gore is trying to drum up business for CapEx.

    One would hope a "real journalism source" would understand the difference between news and marketing, and stop providing editiorial space for marketeers. What is next a nationwide op-ed piece on the dangers of 'Iron poor blood'?!?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 7:12am

    ITT: People who know nothing about the APT and Federal Defense talk about things they do not know.


    It's easy to dismiss as a marketting attempt. It's harder to think that a man with alot of first hand experience at the highest level in the field might have a clue what he's talking about. It's not like he's seen first hand many classified incidents, or knows more about cyberdefense and national security than the people on this blog.


    While I fully agree that monitoring everything and "reinventing the internet" ("spying" as you want to call it) is both unnecessary and impossible, do not be so quick to dismiss the idea of cyber war just because you're afraid someone will see which porn sites you visit.

     

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  18.  
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    Glenn, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 7:36am

    Once a Nazi, always a Nazi

    Now, why would anyone with "intelligence" be always so worried about what "happens" in virtual space? Some more and better security for systems that need to be secured is a given, but thinking that the Internet needs "checkpoints" and "watchtowers" such that no one can go anywhere or do anything without Big Brother knowing all about it is, well, rather cowardly... talk about a Brave New World.

     

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  19.  
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    Steve M, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 7:48am

    It is not about terrorism. It is about controlling information. Would we have ever believed the Kennedy assassination BS had we been able to see ALL of the footage and discuss all of the issues at the time?

    The corporatocracy controls the mainstream media and they collude with the government for contracts. The Internet is something they wish to kill... freedom of the press!

     

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  20.  
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    crade (profile), Mar 5th, 2010 @ 7:57am

    Forget neuromancer and think star trek! We have to start building our defenses for when the klingons attack!

     

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  21.  
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    United Hackers Association, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    as president of the uha

    I can say the only cybar war is on OUR RIGHTS and FREEDOMS
    if any hacker attacks you on those grounds you should begin to wonder seriously why you were targeted.

    .Are you supporting the mpaa and riaa and bsa?
    .Do you support ACTA without seeing it?
    .Do support censorship and loss of privacy rights?

    Answer yes to any and your the cause. WHEN you star giving people freedom and choices....

    AND i'll say this if the riaa and mpaa wasted less time on kids and more on tiawan cdr stompers they see better results

    I'll add suing someone who would ever buy anyhting off you only loses you sales and his friends sales and his kids and grandkids sales.

    You go ahead and berlin wall the interent and see what kinda fighting you start.

    Another thing....all your doing is driving more kids and even adults to think my visions are correct. I have even been entreated to start into politics. Imagine me running a 1st world country.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 10:35am

    Re:

    "It's easy to dismiss as a marketting attempt. "

    Because the evidence suggests this is true.

    "It's harder to think that a man with alot of first hand experience at the highest level in the field might have a clue what he's talking about."

    It's harder to believe that someone who has a conflict of interest in the matter like this has an unbiased opinion, especially given the fact that what he says makes no sense and that the mainstream media either ignores the issue or only presents one side of the issue (ie: The Washington Post). It's also harder to believe that he's the only one who has had experience in the field and only his alleged experienced voice matters, no contradicting experienced voices matter as well, like The Washington Post would like you to believe. In such context, it is difficult to believe that this isn't a scam to trick the public into believing a lie and in fact believing otherwise is unreasonable. Yes, it's hard to believe things that aren't reasonable, I agree.

     

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  23.  
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    Danny, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 10:35am

    Re:

    So the solution to threats is to come down on the entire internet and basically assume all net users are committing treason and espionage? How convinent.

    Good thing we aren't talking about the auto industry or the next time a car got stolen you would propose that we destroy all existing cars and replace them with cars that record and monitor information (and probably only accessiable to the government meaning that local PD would not be able to use the info to stop crooks, thus negating the plan's original purpose).

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 11:21am

    Re:

    The future will not be kind to the control freaks.

     

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  25.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 3:03pm

    Cyberwar and the Internet

    Sounds like Hitler is winning.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 3:15pm

    Where is all the damage associated with this war? All the cybercivilian casualties? Oh, it's a secret? National security? But you need more money?

    A cyberwar isn't anything like a real war. An internet attack isn't like a real attack. The cyberworld isn't anything like the real world.

    Stop treating it like they are the same thing. They are not.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 4:10pm

    "We need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment -- who did it, from where, why and what was the result -- more manageable "

    In other words, you want taxpayers to waste a lot of money on a system that will do nothing to stop terrorism.

     

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  28.  
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    Steve M, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 4:56pm

    Great posts everyone.

    Now get the other 141,647,768 voters out there to turn off the television and get informed!

    You do vote, don't you? Throw them ALL out.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2010 @ 5:51pm

    Re:

    Oh, and please explain to me how this stops terrorism.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uss76bDKimw&sns=fb

    How does destroying perfectly good food, for no good reason, and taking it away from harmless citizens stop terrorism? Please explain, will any of this even stop a single terrorist?

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2010 @ 4:37pm

    Point in response to McConnell: the Google attack exploited a backdoor Google intentionally put into its software for law enforcement use. Calls to increase the ability to spy on what goes on on the Internet are precisely what CAUSED the vulnerability that was exploited in the Google attack. You'd be handing ammo to our enemies on a silver platter!

    In response to the "anonymous coward" who wrote "the advanced persistent threat is stealing intellectual and monetary capital which is the lifeblood of our nation":

    1. There is no such thing as "stealing intellectual capital".

    2. Cyber-theft of monetary capital is a threat that evaporates as soon as we replace our current, antiquated payment-processing systems (which tend to depend on shared secrets like CC#s) with one based on PKI.

     

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  31.  
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    Patriot, Mar 6th, 2010 @ 8:46pm

    Panic?

    He should see the inventor of the internet, Algore, for some pointers. That is as soon as Algore has a chance to completely panic the world through his other "invention" of global warming.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:33pm

    Re: man as a high level source

    so who's this man with a lot of first hand experiance remaining anonymous.

    Joe McCarthy had a list of 50 no 75 card carrying communists in the state department, he used to wave it around on a sheet of paper.

    There was nothing on the sheet of paper. It was empty. A bluff. It was BS. It was fear. It was his political career move.

    So where is the proof we can see. Until then its unsubstantianted claims made to back a huge power grab by the federal government we are not certain has the people's best intrest in mind.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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