Information Warfare: January 17, 2002

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Once the world appeared to have survived the Y2K scare relatively unscathed, attention turned to other potential computer disasters. Indeed, one of the bonuses coming out of the massive audits and reprogramming the Y2K project (to make sure programs did not crash because the year date was stored as two numbers and computers did not read "00" as 1900 instead of 2000) entailed was a massive number of flaws in communications programs. The Y2K project required that a lot of software be scrutinized in a way that would have never happened had there not been the danger of Y2K mishaps. Before that, the common attitude towards software was, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But a lot of software that appeared to be working fine, did have problems that had nothing to do with Y2K. In most cases, they really weren't serious problems, or at least they were things that were more economically fixed when, and only when, the problem somehow got triggered and had to be fixed. But buried in a lot of communications programs were flaws that, in a world where everyone was honest, would not be problems. But as the world finding out, there were a lot of malicious creeps on the internet who loved to exploit communications software flaws to go where they weren't supposed to go and do what wasn't supposed to be done. Governments and military organizations were most concerned about these attacks being used pretty much like a military weapon. Some nations, particularly the United States, had already spent a lot of money on cyber war. It was dawning on people that this was a threat right up there with nuclear weapons, chemical warfare and the use of biological weapons. As the year went on, a list of the likely types of attacks grew. Most of these had to do with the penetration of computer systems via the internet (or any other network that allowed access via the telephone system.) As the internet population grew, along with the number of people probing the net for vulnerabilities, the number of opportunities grew enormously. The quantity of software to be hacked did not grow nearly as much, which explains why this stuff got combed over so thoroughly. For example. In 2000, 1,090 flaws in Internet software were found, of which four percent of them could be used for serious hacking. But in 2001, 2,437 flaws were found, of which 13 percent could be exploited by hackers. So the age of cyberwar was on, fueled by growing quantities of flawed software and malicious hackers.

 


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