[Web Review Contents]
[The Bleeding Edge]

[CyberWar! - Is the Net the next great battlefield?]
May, 2001.

[T]ensions in the Middle East have heated up once again. A dictator is insisting that he -- not his neighbor states and certainly not the US -- will decide the future of oil traffic in the Persian Gulf.

The US warns him to respect the national boundaries in the region and to allow free shipping access to the Gulf.

The dictator, normally belligerent when dictated to by the US, is strangely silent.

Three days later a high-speed passenger train racing from Washington, DC to New York inexplicably switches tracks and piles head on into an oncoming commuter train, killing more than a hundred people, two of them members of Congress.

The same afternoon the air-traffic control system at Chicago's O'Hare displays bogus flight data that causes controllers to misdirect a passenger jet, which collides with a private plane. All 235 on board the commercial jet die as tower personnel watch in disbelief. As the wreckage smolders on the runway, the radar screen still shows the jet two miles from the airport.

That night in San Francisco a computer-controlled switch at a regional Pacific Gas and Electric power station suddenly flips, plunging the entire city into darkness. At the same moment, a mechanized, dial-in attack overloads and shuts down the entire local phone grid.

The next day it gets worse. Electronic sniffers, originating from an unknown source, locate and attack key computer servers controlling the New York and London stock exchanges, plunging the world financial markets into chaos. That afternoon bank teller machines suddenly begin randomly debiting customer accounts, crediting the money to untraceable bank accounts overseas. Billions of dollars disappear before the banks can pull all their teller machines off-line.

By the morning of the third day US intelligence has figured out that the US was under attack, but they could only guess at the source of the trouble. As the Pentagon begins to react, US military bases around the world are struck by a wave of random problems, from crashing computers to printers that lock up and catch fire.

The US has fallen victim to an electronic Pearl Harbor. Addicted to computerized information systems, the US is thrown off balance, forfeiting the game, if not the match, to the Middle Eastern dictator, who sends a simple message: "Had enough? There's more trouble where that came from."

Now that the world has pulled itself back from the brink of thermonuclear destruction, military strategists have identified a new threat: Information Warfare.

How vulnerable is the US to a cyber attack? And if attacked, a few other questions arise:

  • Do we know how to respond to a cyber attack?
  • Should we respond? Or would a massive counterattack only further damage the global Net we need more than our enemies need?
  • What's the morality of cyber warfare? Would there be civilian casualties?

Ira Winkler of Science Applications International (the parent company of InterNIC registrar Network Solutions, Inc.) says that even determining if an Information Warfare attack is underway may prove a daunting task for US strategists.

"How do you know -- really know -- that you're under attack? Before you react you must know whether or not it's just some teenager. If an attack comes from Germany, how do you know that a teenager didn't hack into a German site and launched his attack from there?"

-- Ira Winkler, SAIC

As the wreckage smolders on the runway, the radar screen still shows the jet two miles from the airport.