I spend a lot of time at a computer keyboard typing about biological viruses like influenza A, but computer networks are also subject to self-reproducing parasites of one kind or another and we continue to have a layperson's fascination with those organisms, too. I say "organisms" because try as I might, I can't figuÂ®e out any criteria that distinguishes them from the carbon-based ones we mainly write about here. But that's another topic. This post is about yet another kind of harmful parasite, right wing politicians with only a couple of neurons firing, one of which they are using to breathe and the other to take campaign contributions from other wingnuts. Case in point: Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), ranking member of the House "Intelligence" Committee.
A key Republican lawmaker on Thursday urged President Obama to launch a cyber attack against North Korea, or increase international sanctions against the communist country, in the wake of an unknown hacker’s denial-of-service attacks on U.S. and South Korean websites.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), the lead Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. should conduct a “show of force or strength” against North Korea for a supposed role in a round of attacks that hit numerous government and commercial websites this week.
Hoekstra, speaking on the conservative America’s Morning News radio show, produced by the Washington Times newspaper, said that “some of the best people in America” had been investigating the attacks and concluded that most likely “all the fingers” point to North Korea as the culprit.
They’re reaching the conclusion that this was a state act and that “this couldn’t be some amateurs,” claimed Hoekstra, in direct opposition to what security experts have actually been saying. (Kim Zetter, Wired)
Many people read about the alleged North Korean cyberattacks, dutifully "reported" by the AP, even though they had no evidence the attacks originated in North Korea. It was in the newspapers via Associated Press. Good enough. Others then got into the act, among them an ABC News commentator (Michael Malone) claiming to be a technology expert. The clarion cry was pure Iraq War redux:
“When do we get out of our defensive crouch and actively go after governments that are attacking us through cyberspace?” Malone wrote. “Will it be after a web Pearl Harbor catches us by surprise and crashes our financial markets — or kills thousands of people trapped in computer-controlled transportation systems run amok, or in a darkened city trapped in a blizzard or heat wave, or babies in microprocessor controlled incubators? And long before then, why can’t we respond to such an attack by a foreign government not with bombs or missiles, but by crashing that country’s digital infrastructure?” (via Zetter's Wired piece linked above)
Tough talk. Presumably based on some general principles, like, we should strike at anyone who attacks us that way:
International fingerpointing in the recent cyber attacks against U.S. and South Korean websites has widened to include Great Britain, as researchers examining the attacks trace them to a server in the United Kingdom.
But the British company that owns the server says it, in turn, traced the attacks to a VPN connection originating in Miami, Florida.
With hawks in Congress and the press urging President Barack Obama to launch an all-out cyber war in retaliation for the website outages, things are looking bad for the Sunshine State. (follow-up Kim Zetter piece in Wired)
So after we've finished attacking places that give aid and comfort to terrorists (South Boston, IRA; Montana, White Supremacist Militia; Florida, anti-Cuban terrorists) we can take down the US internet. That should satisfy CongressThing Hoekstra.
Hoekstra probably doesn't realize it, but if we were to do as he suggests, we would be clogging up the Internet for everyone. We also would be broadcasting our own methods of attack. If we taught anyone a lesson, it would be a lesson in how to launch better attacks. Not the brightest thing we could do.
I was watching the trace traffic Revere during that time. It routed to Florida, then to the UK, back to California, then Hong Kong and then...maybe into Korea. I was getting a hit every 30 seconds or so. I dont think the Koreans have enough computers to do this for very long and its easy to stop... Shut down the line and or network that they are operating from. Pretty simple really.
Its the hacks though that are the danger. The cross connectivity of the US govt from database to database could in a real world be damaged severely. Sheer weight of the number of access requests can shut down one system, but not a whole network. VPN's are set up so that one can really mask their activities and give them the autonomy that they need to conduct their activities. Dont need much beyond a really sexed up Dell to create it someplace.
Here is a link. Everyone can have fun putting their own ISP number in and watch it trace it. Lots of info can be gleaned from it. It was easy of course to track it back into Korea once it got into Hong Kong. There are only about six working phone lines in the country so the physical connection was made there. The tracers which are much better than this one tracked it to Hong Kong, then the hard line between the box in Hong Kong and Pyongyang and bingo, you go them.
Just hit the host IP button for a starter.
Now how to respond? I would send a BUF or Cobra Ball up and blanket the area with a buzzer for a week. When they cant get the reruns of I Love Lucy then maybe they'll have a regime change.
I'm sure Hoekstra doesn't realize the implications of his suggested actions: he's not known here in Michigan as the brightest bulb. Sadly, he wants to be our governor, and here on the west side of the state folks like him have quite a following.
If North Korea were to make the same sort of silly and baseless accusations we would call that propaganda. Obviously, by definition, the US could never create propaganda (or war or poverty or . . .).
Anyway, you should not be surprised that turning a phony war into real dollars is a real possibility. You see, as long as you pursue profits, you are above suspicion.
So when we find out this was a bored American teenager exploiting a security flaw in Windows machines (Like almost every other time.) do you think he'll be embarassed? Probably not.
There's a real issue in there somewhere, though this clown isn't the guy to work out its implications. So long as there are huge numbers of compromisable (and compromised) computers all over the world, it's possible for any number of countries to mount internet attacks against us, or anyone else. This offers great opportunities for false-flag attacks, plausible deniability, and djinning up a justification for war based on something you either did yourself, or that you actually have no idea who did.
Of course, the US would *never* engage in internet attacks to achieve our political goals. The attacks on the Al Jazeera English website during the opening of the Iraq war were done by patriotic hackers. (I know this because the endlessly informed and careful US media told me so, quoting scrupulously honest flacks from a scrupulously honest administration.)
I say "organisms" because try as I might, I can't figuÂ®e out any criteria that distinguishes them from the carbon-based ones we mainly write about here.
Very nicely put :-)
first of all, thank you very very much for this blog it truly is an immensely valuable resource
completely off topic -- although completely on topic with regard to flu -- what has happened to the (almost) daily WHO updates, for both new and cumulative cases the last update was over a week ago
This exergue worries me Reveres, once for whatever reason cyber war is lanched, how will we, in Humanitarian Affairs get all the datas we need.
Will Internet still be there tomorrow??
computer networks are also subject to self-reproducing parasites of one kind or another and we continue to have a layperson's fascination with those organisms, too. I say "organisms" because try as I might, I can't figuÂ®e out any criteria that distinguishes them from the carbon-based ones we mainly write about here.
Really? How about the fact that they are "intelligently" designed rather than being naturally evolved? (No doubt it is conceivable that "self-reproducing parasites" in computer systems could evolve through natural selection, but to the best of my knowledge it has not happened in the wild yet. Certainly most of the parasites out there now are designed by people.)
If you don't like that, how about the very criterion you yourself use to distinguish them. The fact that they are not reliant upon the chemistry of carbon (or any other chemistry, come to that), but, unlike real living organisms, they are reliant upon particular sorts of (human designed) informational protocols.
Yes, there are real and significant formal analogies between computer viruses, worms etc., and real living organisms. (Though it is hardly very clever to point that out these days. Even the scientifically illiterate know that computer viruses are sort of like the real viruses that make people sick. It is right there in the name, after all.) But to say that there are no criteria to distinguish between them is false and silly. You only fail to find such criteria if you restrict yourself to a very narrow context, and a particular formal level of description.
Perhaps you were just being flippant, but I fear that there are people who do have a predisposition to think about things in narrowly formal terms, and who take this sort of nonsense seriously. (See comment #7.)
Nigel: No, I wasn't being flippant. By one of your criteria, no genetically engineered organism is, well, is an organism. And the idea that organisms have to be carbon-based is a pretty strong (and wholly gratuitous) requirement. I think you have too easily dismissed a serious question. The only criteria you have cited -- that there be some identifiable agent behind it and that it be carbon-based -- aren't persuasive to me. I know. It's easy for you. You are very lucky. And since it's easy for you, give me a hint: are viruses alive?
Please, please don't use your valuable blog for diatribes (surely Glenn Beck isn't a Revere!?!) I log on here for the best commentary on H1N1 on the net.
What about these new deaths in Britain? Is their top doc right? Is it true that Tamiflu is no longer useful, or perhaps never was except to keep down shedding and if not, why are they giving it out liberally? Keeping the natives quiet, or?
Is Sambucol any better? (After all, the Israelis did invent Basillicum Thuringiensis Israelensis, which many organic farms and swamplands can't do without. This elegant bit of research produced a control harmless to the environment, deadly to certain worms and mosquito larvae.) I've done extensive searches on Sambucol and can't find out whether it provokes cytokine storms or uses a different mechanism entirely. Does any Revere know?
While I agree that people ought to be able to have family sick leave (my husband's tiny self-owned company gives it because I remember NOT having even paid sick days in my post student years) let's remember Katrina. If we wait for any agency to act intelligently, we'll be 12' under water while they look for trailers stored in Alaska. Informed, foresighted individuals will act if they know what to do, even if it means hard choices. If we have to live very frugally to put aside for sick time, OK, I'm game - people are more important than things and I want my family well. I need professionals I trust to tell me what the best science says at the moment, and I'm looking to you.
I work in a hospital setting but am not medical personnel. I know from first hand observation that our medical system cannot possibly handle this pandemic. I don't like how things are shaping up don't think we can avoid real trouble in the Fall. Keep me posted!
Bruce Schneier's blog has some discussion of this at http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/07/north_korean_cy.html