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Cyberwarfare levels the playing field

Hacktivists more imaginative than trad terrorists

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Old definitions of war and national security will be swept away in the online revolution. The old war paradigm defining security as physical protection is obsolete, according to James Adams, CEO of iDefense, and traditional government is too slow to deal with conflict in the virtual world.

Adams was speaking at last week's Compsec computer security conference. He says that as we move our businesses and our lives from the terrestrial to the virtual, we are taking the human condition, and thus conflict, with us. "We are taking all the money and centres of power online with us, and these are the things that war has been fought about forever."

The biggest threat he sees is from "hacktivism" - an area which too many governments are still ignorant of.

The trouble with hacktivists, he says, is that they are too imaginative. "Terrorists in the twentieth century were highly conservative. They had a very traditional way of doing things and were not very imaginative."

The virtual space on the other hand opens up new ways of doing things. Previously disparate groups can now meet and exchange information, reinforcing each other's beliefs. Then, direct action becomes possible.

Leaving the debate about whether war is an inevitable consequence of "the human condition" aside, Adams says that the way we deal with crimes and conflict in cyberspace is still woefully inadequate, and that cyber criminals are taking advantage of that.

He quotes CIA estimates that the LoveBug virus cost business $4 billion. "That is the equivalent of carpet bombing a reasonably sized British city. And someone has done this with impunity. This type of crime is not yet punished in a way which meets the act itself."
[Probably slightly less people died when LoveBug was unleashed than snuffed it when Coventry got flattened in WWII.]

The Internet is a truly frightening tool because it puts power into the hands of the masses. Adams points out that while war was still conducted using bombs and guns the government had a clear advantage in terms of power because it had access to the tools of the trade, while the people did not.

When the government and the people have access to the same technology, we may face the terrifying prospect of institutions being held accountable for their actions.

The malcontent can now cry out against injustices against people and the planet in a forum where others may hear, and chose to do something about it.

"We are at the front line everyday," Adams said. "And it is only the start of the revolution." ®

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