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Cyberterror sim scares pants off of Wired smarty

Electronic Pearl Harbor's enduring echo...

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And this from 1999, from the Washington Times column edited by Bill Gertz. One author is produced, flogging a book on cyberterror and the People's Liberation Army:

"William Triplett, co-author of a new book on the PLA," said: "All of this offensive-warfare talk, when China is not threatened by anyone, shows that the dragon is at the point where it doesn't have to hide its claws."

According to Triplett, "China could launch a devastating computer-run sabotage operation by attacking US oil refineries, many of which are grouped closely together in areas of Texas, New Jersey and California."

"A [Chinese] computer attacker could penetrate the electronic 'gate' that controls refinery operations and cause fires or toxic chemical spills..."

During cyberterror's glory years, a revolving caste of bad actors - bands of criminals, programmers or nation-states - would go in and out of fashion as designated theoretical adversary. In addition to the evergreen miscellaneous collections of arch-hackers, the French, Russians, Indian offshore programmers, occasionally North Korea, and once or twice, even Saddam Hussein were favored. But China was always the most popular.

Also from 1999, Congressman Curt Weldon, on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered:"

"[Curt] Weldon says a successful hacker could disrupt civilian life, striking hospitals or train systems," said the NPR interviewer.

WELDON: "It's not a matter of if America has an electronic Pearl Harbor, but when."

1999 again, in Reuters:

"Hacker Threatens To Leave Country In The Dark" was the headline of an un-bylined story issued by the news agency on Sept. 29:

"A computer hacker has threatened to break into the computers of Belgian electricity generator Electrabel Wednesday afternoon and halt the power supply to the entire country," proclaimed the news service in a 500-word squib.

"Tomorrow I will leave Belgium without power, and that is not so difficult," an anonymous hacker crowed to a Belgian newspaper.

"Wednesday I will get into Electrabel's computers between 1:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon and shut down all the electricity."

The Belgian electric company, Electrabel, "said it was taking the threat seriously but felt that the hacker had little chance of succeeding."

"There is very little chance that Belgium could be without power," said a corporate spokersperson.

No national blackout was subsequently reported.

But the great grand-dad of "electronic Pearl Harbor" and cyberterror, although there are indications he later reneged on the claim, was Richard Clarke. Prior to 9/11, few Americans knew who Richard Clarke was but observers of the cyberterror meme knew him very well. He owned the entire property - lock, stock and barrel, taking it off the much less well-known John Hamre, an assistant secretary of defense during the Clinton administration.

And Clarke's best proclamations, echoed down through the years, were published in Signal magazine, the magazine of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

In its August '99 issue, Clarke said there was "a very real possibility of an electronic Pearl Harbor."

"Without computer-controlled networks, there is no water coming out of your tap; there is no electricity lighting your room; there is no food being transported to your grocery store; there is no money coming out of your bank; there is no 911 system responding to emergencies; and there is no Army, Navy and Air Force defending the country... All of these functions, and many more, now can only happen if networks are secure and functional.

"A systematic [attack] could come from a terrorist group, a criminal cartel or a foreign nation... and we do know of foreign nations that are interested in our information infrastructure and are developing offensive capabilities that would allow them to take down sectors of our information infrastructure..."

Signal went on to describe a national disaster caused by cyberterrorists, embellished by Clarke.

"One possible scenario would feature a demand leveled by a foreign government or terrorist group," wrote the magazine. "When the US government refuses to comply, this adversary demonstrates its capabilities by reducing a region of the United States to chaos. 'I think the capability to do that probably exists in the hands of several nations,' Clarke stated. 'I think it could exist in the near future in the hands of criminal and terrorist organizations.'"

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