False Flag Cyber Attack Looming?
2013 08 20

By Sharon Weinberger | BBC



Despite many warnings, no major attack has taken place on the United States. So it is logical to ask why this hasn’t happened yet, and if it ever will.

For the past few years, US officials have warned of a coming mega cyber attack against critical infrastructure, something akin to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The threat of a looming “Pearl Harbor” was reiterated last year by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who painted a dark portrait of passenger trains sent careening off the tracks and poisoned water supplies, thanks to hackers.

Press articles and opinion pieces followed suit with doom-laden headlines like The Gathering Cyber Storm, Is America Prepared for a Cyber Pearl Harbor? and The Looming Certainty of a Cyber Pearl Harbor.

What form such an attack might take depends on who you talk to: many experts have pointed to physical destruction that could be wrought by a cyber attack, such as a virus programmed to take down the power grid, sinking whole cities into blackness. Or, the attack could be financial rather than physical, such as a coordinated intrusion on banks that brings the economy to a crashing halt, like what happened on a smaller scale in Estonia in 2007 (major banks have already staged drills against a possible attack).

Yet for all the talk, and warnings, no attack of that magnitude has taken place on the United States, at least not yet. So it is logical to ask whether the rhetoric is being exaggerated. After all, if a determined enemy had the opportunity to carry out such an attack, why wouldn’t they have done so by now?

Some officials are now beginning to tone down the warnings. “We judge that there is a remote chance of a major cyber attack against US critical infrastructure systems during the next two years that would result in long-term, wide-scale disruption of services, such as a regional power outage,” James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, told the US Congress earlier this year. “It’s not in the realm of anything we’ve seen to date,” said James Caulfield of the Advanced Cyber Security Center in Boston earlier this week. “It would take as much effort to truck in a bomb.”

Here are some reasons why a cyber Pearl Harbor hasn’t happened yet, and possibly never will:

Cyber weapons don’t always work

When Stuxnet, a virus targeting Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, was first revealed in 2010, it appeared to demonstrate that such attacks could actually destroy physical infrastructure, as opposed to simply disrupting or exploiting digital information and communication. The Stuxnet virus was specifically created to cause gas centrifuges used for enriching uranium to spin out of control and, in effect, self-destruct.

While touted by many as proof that cyber attacks could do vast damage, some have since questioned whether Stuxnet was really as successful as has been claimed. Earlier this year, Ivanka Barzashka, a research associate at the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London, published an analysis of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, arguing that even if Stuxnet destroyed some of Iran’s centrifuges, it had a negligible impact on the countries capabilities. “Clearly, Stuxnet had the potential to seriously damage Iranian centrifuges, although there are many technical limiting factors to the malware’s success,” writes Barzashka. “Public evidence of the Stuxnet’s impact is circumstantial and inconclusive.”

In fact, she argues, the data available through the International Atomic Energy Agency demonstrates that Iran, notwithstanding the Stuxnet attacks, was able to increase its uranium enrichment, moving it potentially closer to a nuclear weapon.

The metaphor is wrong

Part of the problem with a cyber Pearl Harbor is that although the threat is real, the particular metaphor may be flawed. Pearl Harbor was not just an unexpected and devastating blow to US military forces in the Pacific, once the attack took place, the military and the public recognised the threat. A significant cyber attack may not be so immediately crippling.

“The most pressing cyber threat is not likely to be a single, sudden attack that cripples the United States,” wrote John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School. “Cyberwarfare is a lot like [US poet] Carl Sandburg’s fog, coming in on ’little cat feet’.”

[...]

Read the full article at: bbc.com



Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

EU on high alert as Germany accepts Ebola patients
2014 07 30
A German hospital has agreed to treat Ebola patients amid widespread fears of a possible outbreak of the deadly disease in Europe. Over 670 people have already been killed by the disease in West Africa with doctors struggling to control the epidemic. A German hospital in Hamburg agreed to accept patients following a request from the World Health Organization (WHO), Deutsche ...
Bolivia declares Israel terrorist regime
2014 07 30
Bolivia has declared Israel a “terrorist state” and revoked a visa exemption agreement with Tel Aviv in protest at the ongoing Israeli attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip. The move "means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state," President Evo Morales said during talks with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba ...
Pagan Traditions: Mysteries of medieval graffiti in England’s churches
2014 07 30
Medieval graffiti of straw kings, pentagrams, crosses, ships and "demon traps" have been offering a tantalising glimpse into England’s past. What do the pictures reveal about life in the Middle Ages? A project to record the graffiti, which began in Norfolk, has now been rolled out to other areas and is gradually spreading across England. Armed with just a torch and a ...
More Gigantic Holes Appear in Siberia’s ’End of the World’
2014 07 30
Is it the end of the world in Siberia’s ’End of the World’? Scientists suspect not, but they’re still investigating the strange and alarming holes that are swallowing up the Siberian north. This week two new holes have been discovered, and with similar characteristics as the first reported hole: a very deep shaft with smooth sides, debris surrounding the rim, and water ...
BLACKLISTED: The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist
2014 07 30
The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept. The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, ...
More News »