Writer: By Peter Rojas
Date Written: May 9, 2003
The war in Iraq was supposed to raise dramatically the likelihood of a major cyberterrorist attack against the US and its allies. Some even predicted a "digital Pearl Harbour", an electronic assault that could have shut down power plants, crippled the banking system or disabled the air traffic control network.
D.K. Matai, chairman and chief executive officer of the internet security firm mi2g, predicted that it was highly likely that "the launch of a physical attack on Iraq will see counterattacks from disgruntled Arab, Islamic fundamentalist and anti-American groups".
Now with the war winding down, fears that Iraq, al-Qaeda or even sympathetic hackers in Russia and China would open up a second front in cyberspace have turned out to be unfounded, with little or no evidence that either they or anyone else is engaged in cyberterrorism. What happened? Quite simply, the expected attacks just never materialised. Tim Madden, a spokesman for Joint Task Force-Computer Network Operations (JTF-CNO), created by the US Strategic Command to handle network defence and attack, says there has been no significant increase in attempts to infiltrate US military computers since the war began. There were some instances of war-related hacking during the past few weeks, but nothing that would be considered cyberterrorism rather than cybervandalism. Apart from a few opportunistically timed worms and viruses, we've seen no more than a large number of website defacements, the online equivalent of graffiti. Mikko Hypponen, the manager of anti-virus research at internet security firm F-Secure, estimates that, in total, there have been about 20,000 website defacements, both pro- and anti-war, since mid-March, with most taking place within the first few days.