Feeds

Schneier: Teens and treaties - our cyber-war saviors

We're all going to die! Er, no, we're not...

Boost IT visibility and business value

We can expect at least another 10 years of unbridled and irrational fear about the threat of cyber war before things calm down.

That's according to security expert Bruce Schneier, who reckons it will be people's attitudes to the threat of hackers, terrorists and rogue nations that will grow up first, and essentially help make us safer, before the technology that might be used to stop potential attacks matures.

He said the new generation, which has grown up in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, will be better adjusted and more rational about the threat of potential attacks.

Speaking at The Register and Intel Live 2011 in London last week, Schneier also blamed senior political and military figures, the security industry and headline writers for inflating fear to unreasonable proportions.

"We've had a decade of terrorists and 'we are all going to die' in the US – it's been terrible... it's very different to what you might see in Israel or here in the UK during The Troubles, where there's a very different mentality," Schneier said.

"It takes a generation that grew up in that mentality to recognise it and to change it. I do think it will change; it's more perception than reality, but it takes a new group to change it."

Schneier, currently BT security chief and with a long and distinguished career in security, has been a persistent critic on his blog and in the media of overinflated fear-mongering about cyber war.

Schneier didn't discount or downplay the risk of cyber war at Live 2011, but instead took issue with a phrase that's widely bandied about, but actually quite hard to define.

While people have claimed cyber war is already in progress or that we are in the middle of a "cyber Katrina" – referring back to the hurricane and following bureaucratic inertia that cripple New Orleans in 2005 – he noted that "wars" require government sponsors, and so far there is no proof that any of the larger-scale attacks on computer systems has received that level of backing.

Instead, he said, while we're not fighting a cyber war as such, we are seeing war-like tactics used in broader cyber conflicts.

He pointed to China, which was suspected of launching a DoS on Gmail in 2010; there was no proof, though, that it was an official policy. "There are lot of attacks emanating from China, but those paying attention believe they are less state-sponsored than state-tolerated – people who attack with impunity but who pass anything they find on to their handlers," Schneier said.

On the other side of the Bamboo Curtain, there's been Stuxnet – a worm reputedly authored by the US and Israel and used to take down Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Complicating the picture is the fact that the weapons and tactics of cyber war do not rest in the hands of governments. Individuals – those with a grudge or hacktivists like Anonymous – are in on the act.

The 2007 denial of service attack on Estonian government system has been frequently quoted as an example of cyber war waged against a nation. It was a good example given the on-going levels of animosity between Russia and its former Soviet republic. The attacks, though, were work of just one person: a lone student, and not even a Russian at that. He was an Estonian student with a beef against the government over a WWII soviet war memorial. Also, there were the attacks on financial institutions that wouldn't handle payments of WikiLeaks once the site fell foul of the US government.

New-age armaments

Schneier is not complacent. He doesn't say that cyber war won't happen – rather, that we are still in the early stages of planning. The US Department of Defense, for example, has established a Cyber Command and there's talk of China wanting to dominate cyberspace. He says the difference is that cyber war will not exist in isolation of an actual war; when the tanks start rolling then computing infrastructure will be become just another theatre.

"I'm not saying cyber war will never exist; preparing for cyber war is reasonable... having a US cyber command makes sense. When war breaks out it will occupy all theatres," he said.

Schneier said the difference is how one evaluates this complex situation, the defensive measures deployed, and steps that the really big players – such as nations – can take to diffuse the situation.

On defence, it pays for certain players not to be simply "as secure as everybody else" but to ensure they have absolute security. This applies to organisations like those financial institutions targeted by WikiLeaks fanbois, attacked on ethical or political grounds, or on the basis of anger.

At a national level, Schneier also endorsed an idea from former US cyber-czar Richard Clark, who has proposed cyber treaties between countries that would outline certain agreements, for example no first use of weapons or no attacks against civilian infrastructure.

"Even a cyber-war hotline would be a good idea between the various countries cyber commands," he said. ®

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

More from The Register

next story
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Microsoft boots 1,500 dodgy apps from the Windows Store
DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! Naughty, misleading developers!
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?