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Cyberterror sim scares pants off of Wired smarty

Electronic Pearl Harbor's enduring echo...

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"Envision all of these things happening simultaneously -electricity going out in several major cities; telephones failing in some regions; 911 service being down in several metropolitan areas. If all of that were to happen simultaneously, it could create a great deal of disruption, hurt the economy..."

But back at his Slate essay, Suellentrop writes that he was invited to take part in a computerized cyberterror game in which cyberterrorists attack a town. It was pimped, or I should say - designed, by Dartmouth's Institute for Security Technology Studies.

Now, with a name like that, you might think it's an academic operation which broadly addresses national security problems and technology.

But if you go out to its website, it's just like the dreary old Nineties collections of faculty members and miscellaneous experts, in which virtually anyone will do who is ready to keep working the cyberterror angle with courses, lectures and monographs that drill into your head the menace of cyberterror.

With nothing new here, it would be expected that any simulation the institute would put together would be one designed to show its participants how deadly cyberterror is, no wiggle-room allowed.

In any case, what Suellentrop doesn't seem to realize, at least he gives no inkling in his writing, is that all such simulations, when run for journalists or officials, are rigged so the participants can't win.

Such things are role-playing games, and if you take part in one, your role is to be the patsy, one of the designated players allowed to go "Oh my!" as the simulation's world comes crashing down around you.

Dick Destiny won't go into it, but it hasn't seen one yet where the object wasn't to simply to create an escalating disaster that flummoxed players, no matter what they did. They never take into account the natural resilience and expertise which may exist within the citizenry.

By the standards of old-timey electronic Pearl Harbor/cyberterror scenarios, Suellentrop's simulation was unimaginative. Hackers mess with the 9/11 system, which goes back to the Nineties and the most famous fed cyberterror simulation, Eligible Receiver.

Cyberterrorists then deface a government web page! Wow! No one thinks to say to the refs, "So what, who's waiting with bated breath to read it?" Or, "If you a tree falls in cyberspace and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Electronic highway signs are made to display a message that indicates a bioterror attack is underway. By experience, no such highway signs exist in Pasadena. Some can be found on the multiple highways surrounding southern California, but I'm far from sure such a message would have much impact on the tremendous volume of motorists rushing by.

More buttons were pushed and a hospital was worked over. Always, people die.

"I'm talking about people shutting down a city's electricity... shutting down 911 systems, shutting down telephone networks and transportation systems," said Richard Clarke to the New York Times in 1999. "You black out a city, people die. Black out lots of cities, lots of people die."

Quaint.

Read the adventures of the smarty-pants - at the famous tech comic book, Wired. ®

This article was originally published at Dick Destiny.

George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.

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