If you think there is nothing personal to gain for public officials who use words like “cyberterrorism” and “Digital Pearl Harbor,” think again.
This came to mind recently with all the hoopla surrounding TSA’s new screening procedures. (As an aside: I unequivocally oppose them, partly because of the concerns over privacy and health, but mostly because I think they are a complete waste of time. Airport security has truly turned into theater, to borrow a phrase from Bruce Schneier. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that TSA has never, nor ever will, stop a terrorist. Terrorists are too smart. Like a good hacker wishing to break into a corporate network, if terrorists want to get on a plane and kill innocent Americans, they will find a way).
What irks me most, though, about this TSA controversy is the fact that federal officials, such as the agency’s head John Pistole, capitalize on fear as their lone justification, really, for enacting tougher screening procedures.
And apparently it pays off in the end, as this Huffington Post article from Tuesday describes, citing people like former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has parlayed his career in government into private ventures, including companies that make airport screening equipment, that pocket him good money when Americans are worried they may get blown up by a terrorist.
Which brings me to cyberterrorism.
The risk of a devastating digital attack on our nation’s most critical of infrastructure, such as the power grid or financial systems, is obviously possible. If there were any doubt before Stuxnet, it should now be quite apparent that sophisticated, well-funded and precise malware writers have the capability of doing some serious damage to the things we rely on the most for our daily existence.
Will it happen tomorrow? Doubtful. Will it happen someday? Probably, though who can be certain?
Regardless, as important as it is to accurately relay these stories to the audience, we, as the media (even a magazine such as SC which is dedicated to reporting about this stuff), must be sure to vet the source’s motives. Particularly those who have transitioned from a role as a public servant into one in the private sector, where they now stand to profit off of others’ fears.
At the very least, we should be making those interviews more transparent than we do.
Grope-free Thanksgiving travels, everyone.