Does a cyber-NATO make sense? (ZDNet News) : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread,4586,2553510,00.html


Does a cyber-NATO make sense? Coop: Does the United States need a cyber-NATO?

By Charles Cooper, ZDNet News

April 20, 2000 2:49 PM PT

Mafiaboy today. Osama bin Laden tomorrow?

That's the nightmare scenario the spooks in the government's national security apparatus may find themselves dealing with in the not-too-distant future.

If guilty as charged, the 15-year-old Canadian kid accused of bringing down CNN's Web page last February in the denial-of-service attacks against sundry Internet sites will become the poster boy for the vulnerability of the nation's information systems networks.

This wouldn't fall under the category of Uncle Sam again ginning up an issue because the Cold War is over. Indeed, the Internet may have been designed to withstand a nuclear attack, but it wasn't built to ward off security attacks.

The administration is implementing a national plan for IS protection, which is scheduled for completion by 2003. But that's only for starters; given how everything in the economy and military is increasingly directly or indirectly related to the Internet, the issue soon to be put on the table is whether the United States needs a cyber-NATO?

Scare 'em to death

When the government was considering how to sell the U.S. public on an expensive post-war reconstruction program for Europe, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Arthur Vandenberg offered President Harry Truman this piece of sage advice: Scare the hell out of them.

That was in 1947. Fears then were rife that war-weakened states on the Old Continent would fall into the Soviet orbit. But President Truman's subsequent decision to take the Michigan senator's message to heart played a major role in galvanizing public support for the Marshall Plan.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast-forward to 2000, where the current administration finds itself faced with the challenge of how to secure the nation's IS infrastructure. Some people believe the resolution of this question will be no less monumental than the decision to help stave off the economic collapse of Western Europe.

The memory of February's attacks against different Web sites, including ZDNet, is still fresh in the minds of public officials and private executives who fret this might be the start of an escalating cyberwar as more mischievous hackers try their luck.

But instead of a maladjusted teen-ager, it just might be a transnational criminal cartel, terrorist group or even rogue state that attempts to take out part of the nation's info infrastructure.

I wouldn't feel comfortable just yet about how that might turn out. And it's not just me. Jeffrey Hunker, a senior director in the National Security Agency, acknowledged that the government can't deal with the potential enormity of a cybersecurity issue on its own. Toss into the mix a severe shortage of trained Internet security experts and you have the makings of "interesting times" ahead.

Privacy concerns

It's also one hell of a sticky wicket.

Calls to rethink the idea of national security in the Internet age and create the equivalent of a cyber-NATO won't go over easily. Any move to pull together a national policy on Internet security invariably raises the specter of Big Brother sticking his big nose into areas that should be off-limits.

So far, administration officials have gone out of their way to assuage concerns about sacrificing civil liberties on the alter of cybersecurity.

If they're doing their job, free-speech watchdogs can be counted on to bark if and when Washington crosses the line. At this stage, at least, I don't think they'll have much to worry about. Private industry is going to handle most of the work in building protections for the network, with the government acting as facilitator.

That's for the short term. The reality is that a world in which everyone's connected is also a world in which everyone is at risk. And that's a grim truth we're all going to have to get used to.

-- (___@___.___), April 21, 2000

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