The Internet as a battlefield

I’ve been trying to work on this post for ages, but never seem to get it finished. The more I think about it, the more tangents I head in, so here’s a start anyway. Maybe you can add a comment to the thread.

When we, Joe Citizen think of warfare, the common picture is either soldiers, tanks and planes, or more recently terrorist attacks. Information warfare is not a topic that we think of very often.

Of course using media such as radio, print and TV have been used for decades to provide disinformation, but now that we have the Internet, there is potential for a new front that could cripple economies and cause massive disruption to life as we know it.

Last month 14 Virgin Blue flights were cancelled in Melbourne when a broken cable disrupted their computer systems, stranding thousands of passengers. A total of 48 domestic flights were cancelled as a follow on of this problem.

Periodically there are major EFTPOS failures, which can happen at the worst possible times. For example in 2005 the EFTPOS network in New Zealand broke down for 2 hours on 23rd December. The estimate was that around half a million transactions were lost on one of the busiest days for retailers in the year. Millions of dollars in transactions were lost because people don’t really carry cash any more.

In November last year Brazil and some of Venezuela lost their power. Nine of Brazil’s states were out of power, representing millions of people. Whilst many complained they couldn’t watch their favorite soap opera, traffic lights were not working, trains weren’t running and parts of the country pretty much ground to a halt.

If a country or a terrorist organisation wanted to cause chaos or in some way to a country or city in the modern world, it would be incredibly easy. In Holland a guy called Max Cornelisse has created chaos and recorded it on YouTube to show how easy it is to disrupt services we take for granted. Amongst other things he has meddled with electronic signs on freeways, opened and closed bridges over canals from his PDA, sent people running from one platform to another by controlling automated PA messages at railway stations and in this YouTube Video he controlled the autoprompter at a Dutch TV station causing confusion to the newsreaders on live TV. Unfortunately it is in Dutch, but you’ll get the idea.

This is just a guy having a little fun, but what could you do if you seriously wanted to disrupt a country or city. What chaos would you create simply by shutting down the Internet. How would your business function without the Internet? How would your community function without the Internet? Imagine no email, no Voice over IP, no web browsing, no IM, no Facebook or Twitter? No online share trading. No banking, no EFTPOS, no ATM’s and who carries cash?

That’s just for starters. I wonder how long it would take for a major city, like New York, London or Amsterdam to fall into chaos? What would happen after a day, a week, even longer?

Last week there was a story on NPR about cyber terrorism. It quoted USA Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blaire saying that “Every single day, Blair said, sensitive information is “stolen from both government and private sector networks” as criminals become increasingly more sophisticated.”

Interestingly on 16 February 2010 an event will take place in a simulated Whitehouse Situation Room which is scripted to emulate a cyber terrorist attack. Those taking part will include former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponter and former Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, who will have to work out how to deal with it as it plays out.

This has happened shortly “after the House overwhelmingly passed The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act. Something that gives the Obama administration the power to switch off the Internet,” according to Techeye. For more on the Act, check here.

Just as a final thought for now. If you know how to defend against an attack, you also know how to initiate one. I’m not for a moment suggesting any Western power would do that, but given the right circumstances…….

I am very happy to be living in New Zealand in that respect. Although we have allowed ourselves to become very dependant on our friends and allies, not even able to fully feed ourselves if we bacame isolated.

Could Swine Flu Be Man Made?

I have to start by saying I don’t think it was, but it is a ligitimate question, given that bioviolence is something that many countries around the world will be considering and it is an obvious threat from terrorists. We don’t hear anything about the neutron bomb these days, but the concept of killing off people but leaving the environment intact, is not new.

Several years ago I was helping a water authority with mobile data communications around the same time as a meeting of world leaders . Even though bioterrorism has not been seen in this country, there were was hightened vigilence of the city’s water reservoirs, to ensure that they were not deliberately contaminated as a protest against the international meeting.

You would have to have your head in the sand to not consider the act of unleashing a virus as a possible act of warfare and in order to run tests to assess the viability of such an exercise, it would seem that the best way to test whether this is possible, would be to try it on humans.

Swine Flu has so far only been highly contagious in one city of the world. Most of the deaths occured in Mexico or a small number of people who had been to Mexico City. If you were running tests, you would of course not want your tests to accidentaly kill off a large percentage of the human race, you would want it to be in  controlled environment, particularly one where your countries citizens were a vast minority.

It is common public knowledge that the US military does research into infectus diseases and according to The Frederick News, Fort Meade is investigating the possibility of missing virus samples fromthe U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to consider wht the Army would have such an Institute. You could ligitimately suggest that they need this in case other countries or terrorist groups decide to engage in bio-warfare and of course in order to understand how to defend against such attacks you would of course have to know how to create the viruses.

The web is littered with sites like Freedom Watch saying that since 9/11 the US has been preparing for further terrorist attacks and that biological warfare would make a lot of sense. Many of these sites appear to be from civil liberty organisations and while many of them are based on reasonable foundations, there are obviously many that appear on the redneck fringe.

Nevertheless, this type of warfare of sorts has been documented for thousands of years, with the first known use of biotics was from 1500 – 1200 BC where Hittite texts suggested the use of ergot being used to deliberately contaminate water wells. Ergot was the same hallucinatory that is said to have been the foundation of the Salem witch trials, where the rye was contaminated causing LSD like hallucinations. So the concept is nothing new.

I spent quite a lot of time looking for any credible authority that suggests that there is any credibility to this possibility, but they all seem to quote Freedom Watch and similar sites as their source.

So was Swine Flu N1H1 man made? I doubt it. Is it possible, of course. Could a virus like this be mutated and used by terrorists or foreign governments as a military weapon, absolutely.

So back to the future. According to NZ Herald, the current list is now over 6,600 people in 33 countries, including over 70 deaths. The media in the US keeps saying they aren’t seriously concerned at the moment because summer is coming and the bacteria doesn’t survive for long in warm temperatures. Of course in New Zealand we are now heading into the flu season and there are currently around 400 people in isolation as I write this blog. A bit different to the bird flu we were worried about.

In one of my next blogs I will see what I can find out about the 2nd wave. Traditionally these sorts of viruses come back again in waves with the waves often having mutated and being far more virulent than the first and this is one of the problems for the makers of Tamiflu, because the antivirus they make now in massive quantities, might be powerless against the next wave of the bug. Will the 2nd wave start down under, or will it come in 4-5 months on the Amercian continent. Will we be ready for it?

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course

Thanks so much for your support:)

For the last word, lets look inside a Mexican Swine Flu Isolation Ward.