Comment Leader, © Silicon.com 1998, 1999
Why governments should fight back in the
April 12 1999, 0:01am - Two weeks ago, Melissa was just another topless
dancer living in Florida. Little did she know then that she was about to give
her name to a virus that would strike down corporate networks all over the
world. But now her 15 minutes of fame have come and gone, what is there to
be learnt? Many self-appointed 'industry experts' have dismissed Melissa as
'pure hype'. They say only a small percentage of businesses were affected.
They also say it was just another bandwagon for the anti-virus software manufacturers
to jump on, to sell more upgrades.
Being cynical is great, isn't it; after all, it saves you having to think.
It also means you don't actually have to take any action either. Well, let
this week's news of a Serbian threat serve as their wake-up call.
According to consultancy, mi2g, Slobodan Milosevic's government is
paying hackers to send malicious viruses to the West. It's obvious, really
- Nato is currently blowing up the Serbian military's fuel, water, power and
communications lines. Clearly, you'd expect Serbia to retaliate in kind, but
since sending planes to Berlin, London or Paris is impractical, the obvious
move is to turn hackers into front-line troops instead.
So if you're responsible for IT at a utility company, stop worrying about
the 17 year old geek challenging authority from his mom's basement in Seattle.
Worry about cybermercenaries. Finance firms need to be on the alert too -
if you were a paid hacker working in the former Eastern Bloc, you'd find the
seat of the capitalist West pretty irresistible too, wouldn't you?
But what does this mean in the long term? At present, we can make sure our
firewalls and anti-virus software are up to date and reliable. We can also
share information on detection and fixes with our customers, suppliers and
competitors. However, these are only stop-gap solutions. Even if mi2g's
imminent cyberwar proves a false alarm, there will always be another 'enemy
of the West' just around the corner, ready to make it happen for real. In
which case, we'll need some serious protection.
The IT industry has long been left to police itself, but now it's time for
the member states of the United Nations to take responsibility. They should
be employing the very best ex-hackers and security experts in the world to
help provide a shield against such attacks. They need to work out how to provide
technical protection, advice and active support for all vulnerable organisations.
It's time governments stopped leaving us to fend for ourselves - if a political
decision is taken to bomb another nation, it should be soldiers, not IT directors,
doing the fighting.