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Editorial: Cyber Terrorism


Source: Arab News
Date: September 01, 2003

Cyber Terrorism There is an assumption that the march of science and technology is taking humankind toward ever-dizzier heights of achievement. Yet those who feel disturbed about the loss of all the old-fashioned skills that are being replaced by technology must have felt a grim satisfaction recently. First there was the paralysis of the eastern states of North America in the biggest-ever power failure and now yet another computer virus has brought hundreds of thousands of computers around the world to a grinding halt.

Computer viruses are becoming an all-too-familiar hazard, especially for businesses which have reconstructed their operations around normally fast and inexpensive e-mail. The MSBlast worm last week wrecked the systems of at least half-a-million business computers and probably countless millions of personal desktop machines. An 18-year-old American computer geek is currently under arrest, charged with disseminating a version of the MSBlast worm, but it appears the actual originator of this latest virus is still undiscovered. Experts say that it does not require much in the way of coding skill to write a virus routine that will seize information, such as names from an e-mail address book in a victim computer and use that data to propagate itself rapidly around the world. In addition it is not a particularly demanding task to create code that will create spurious instructions to a computerís operating system which will cause it to damage itself.

It is time to start taking a serious view of these criminals. The youth from Hopkins, Minnesota, faces a maximum of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Yet if he is found guilty of this crime, the chances are that his punishment will be well short of the maximum. Indeed, in the perverse geekish culture of Americaís computer kid generation, he will emerge as a hero. His brief moment of celebrity will encourage other Internet hooligans to try their hand at further devilment.

What is needed is as precise an audit as possible of exactly what damage these mindless virus attacks cause. It is not simply a waste of time and effort that is involved. Because the computer-powered arteries of certain hospitals and emergency services are paralyzed for a time, lives can be lost. Delays caused in the delivery of emergency aid let the starving die. Business disruption loses companies and therefore their investors money. Every new virus causes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to innocent people around the world. In such circumstances, a maximum ten-year jail sentence and a quarter-million dollar fine seem inadequate punishment. It is time authorities around the world took off the gloves when dealing with these cyber-terrorists and introduced some level of punishment that will make even an immature geek with a personal problem think twice before perpetrating a virus crime.

Original article at: http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion=0&article=31196&d=1&m=9&y=2003



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