February 16, 2006

Cyber warfare and the "blogger threat"

The US Homeland Security Department recently ran a mock Internet attack to test its preparedness in cyberspace.

Called "Cyberstorm," it was the largest cyber wargames exercise ever conducted. It was designed to gauge how the US and the international community would respond to devastating attacks over the Internet from not just terrorists and enemy states, but also from anti-globalization activists, underground hackers, and bloggers.

That's right, bloggers.

The Cyberstorm simulation was a challenge to government officials and industry executives to "respond to deliberate misinformation campaigns and activist calls by bloggers." Officials from the US, Canada, Australia, and Britain, along with executives from Microsoft, Cisco, and Verisign simulated attacks using isolated computers and working from basement offices at the Secret Services headquarters in downtown Washington.

According to accounts, the Internet "survived" the attacks, but the Homeland Security Department will not be disclosing its final report until later this summer.

It's generally felt that, with the meteoric rise of the Internet and with the information and communication revolutions still in full swing, the threat of networked groups and individuals to spread disinfo and to engage in widescale social engineering campaigns has never been greater. One could imagine a fleet of blogs calling for people to rise up over an issue like runaway global warming.

Consequently, that the Homeland Security Department considers bloggers a potential threat really shouldn't come as a complete surprise; the military would likely shut down threatening and subversive blogs during times of war or civil unrest.

It's during such episodes that control of information flow becomes tactically paramount -- so much so that nations often regress to de facto authoritarianism and even totalitarianism. As a result, the state has the power to claim a monopoly on the memesphere, including extreme censorship and propaganda campaigns.

Freedom of speech is a peacetime luxury.

At the same time, however, I have to think that the real impact bloggers could conceivably have is over-stated. I don't think memes work in such a pervasive way, particularly not today in the age of diversified media. If blogs could actually cause people to riot, for example, it's not because the blogs are telling them to do so, but because there's a genuine reason for doing so.

But as the Cyberstorm exercise shows, the revolution will not be televised, nor will it posted on a blog.

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Rory Shock said...

Excellent post.

Illusive Mind said...

Great post.

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