Friday, October 12, 2012

Electronic Pearl Harbor - Haven't we heard this before?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta smirked his way though a press conferece, apparently sourced from the 1997 recycle bin.  He claimed that we are on the bring of a 'Cyber Pearl Harbor', where 'terrists' would take control of our systems, introduce foreign substances into our precious bodily fluids, contaminate our water supplies and crash our trains like a giant Gomez Addams.

“The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be ‘cyber Pearl Harbor,’ ...” he said. (

Sounds familiar, eh?  At least to people who've been reading for a few years.  George Smith, security researcher, editor of Crypt newsletter and author of Virus Creation Labs has discussed this since the early 1990s.  The Pentagon has consistently refused to provide substantive proof, other than its say-so, and they continue to do so in the current warning from Panetta, as he spoke with business leaders in New York.  "No one explains precisely the how, whys, and wherefores of these apocalyptic scenarios," says George Smith, the editor of Crypt Newsletter, which covers computer security issues. "You always just get the assumption that chemical plants can be made to explode, that the water supply can be polluted--things that are even hard to do physically are suddenly assumed to be elementary because of the prominence of the Internet." (2002, Washington Monthly)

We've seen this before: 1997, "Experts prepare for 'an electronic Pearl Harbor'" (CNN); 1998, "U.S. Studies a New Threat: Cyber Attack" (Washington Post); and so on and so forth.

George Smith debunked this in 1998; most of the threats posed are overblown, bored kids, and realistically if your PC crashed 10% more, would you even notice?  Smith calls for more attention on basic computer security: 

"If organizations don't intend to be serious about security, they simply should not be hooking their computers to the Internet. DOD in particular would be better served if it stopped wasting time trying to develop offensive info-war capabilities and put more effort into basic computer security practices." - George Smith, 1998 (Issues in Science and Technology)
Fortunately, Panetta seems to be on a similar page, exhorting the business leaders to (after they get done lobbying Congress for more billions in defense dollars for cyber-war), 

"Help us innovate. Help us increase the nation’s cyber security by securing your own networks. Help us remain ahead of the threats that we confront,” he said. “By doing so, you will help ensure that cyberspace continues to bring prosperity to your companies and to people across the world.” - Leon Panetta, 2012 (

Disclaimer - I've been reading this stuff since it first came about in the mid 1990s.  I haven't a dog in the fight, but I do like to call bullshit when I see it.

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