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Can govts ever discuss cybersecurity without going over the top?

Occasionally, someone in government can talk about cybersecurity without becoming hysterical. But it’s rare.

It was always a safe bet to suggest, as Crikey did last week, that the tide of stupid would keep rising when it came to self-interested reports. As if pre-arranged, US security software giant McAfee stepped forward a few days later with an “online safety survey” to show how terrified Americans were about cybersecurity, including that “90% of Americans do not feel completely safe” online and 25% had been exposed to a data breach. Cue inevitable dramatic headlines.

An actual look at the survey revealed some things that didn’t quite fit — that “90%” figure was based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 8% of Americans saying they felt completely safe (5), and another 33% saying they were relatively sanguine about it (4). Only 8% of Americans said they felt “completely unsafe”. And the “25%” figure was based on the question “have you been notified by any businesses, online service providers or an organization” about a data breach, which raised the amusing possibility that the survey result would be including fake security breach notifications that deliver malware and phishing attacks.

Still, no surprises with any of this. The survey was launched by McAfee in league with a US government-sponsored cybersecurity initiative. Capitalism and government working hand-in-hand to sell more stuff and heighten hysteria. Same old. But it seemed to coincide with a torrent of stupid from elsewhere. In a bizarre US military document acquired by Wired.com, this week, the Asymmetric Warfare Group advises “military leaders” that “social networks” and “youth”, among many, many other traits that characterise most of humanity, are “risk factors for radicalisation”.

Then two days ago, the United States’s top cyber defence official boldly claimed that hackers were now moving “from exploitation to disruption to destruction” and that power grids and stockmarkets could be shut down. General Alexander’s solution was information-sharing arrangements between the private sector and government. Alexander had loudly complained in August when a bill to mandate sharing of information relevant to cybersecurity threats was defeated in Congress thanks to an unusual coalition of big business lobbyists and privacy and net freedom advocates.

One of the sponsors of the bill endorsed Alexander’s remarks by issuing the now inevitable warning of a “cyber 9/11”. As Crikey and many others have previously explained, there’s little evidence that large-scale destructive attacks can be achieved by hacking in the way “cyberhawks” maintain. But this is a species on the rise: back in August, Dubya-era NSA and CIA head Michael Hayden repeated his call for a “digital Blackwater”, an unaccountable private cyber army to prosecute America’s interests online.

Here in Oz, of course, we have our very own cyberwar skirmishes going on not online, but in the real world, or “meatspace” as the trolloscenti call it, as a Parliamentary committee doggedly works its way through 44 rather vague proposals for extensions of surveillance and intelligence-gathering laws.

Every once in a while, the committee gives away a signal as to its thinking. Last Thursday, chairman Anthony Byrne asked Telstra’s representatives to comment on why it was that, in addition to police forces, organisations like the RSPCA, the Victorian Taxi Directorate, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and Commonwealth departments like Health were able to demand that telecommunications companies hand over user information.

That’s the law, a Telstra representative explained: “[I]f an agency is able to verify that it undertakes investigation of a criminal offence, protects the public revenue or has the ability to impose a pecuniary penalty — one or all three of those — then they have the right to request that information lawfully from the telcos.”

It was a brief but illuminating spotlight on the vast array of entities that can already obtain information about what we’ve been doing online and on a phone.

That was the day after the Australian Securities and Investment Commission had appeared before the committee and demanded the retention of all internet and telephone information, including content records. In another context, Byrne referred the following day to “ambit claims” being made by agencies.

At least some people in government can discuss these issues without succumbing to cyber hysteria.

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  • 1
    Damien
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    The tide of stupid indeed - and not just here. I heard of a teenage girl (a cyber-friend of my daughter)in the Filipines just the other day who had a visit from the Police for tweeting that she didn’t like the Government. Apparently she was threatened with prison. Just shows, control freaks don’t like things they can’t control.

  • 2
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    A “cyber 9/11” would actually be a terrific excuse to shut down the US banking system for a few weeks, clean up their quadrillion-dollar derivatives mess and blame it all on Iran, Russia or China. If all else fails, the war hawks and Fed-led banker cartel will be only too happy to help each other out.

  • 3
    Jim Bob
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    As someone who works in the public service in IT I regard the greatest threat to our privacy to be Governments selling information about us to commercial entities.
    The Government departments do it now in order to raise operational funds and I notice that it is happening more frequently as budgets are cut.
    And of course as budgets are cut they are getting more sloppy about who, what and how information is sent.

  • 4
    Patriot
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    How exactly do the Greens imagine they will police their prohibitions on racіsm, ѕexism, homophobia, and all the other offensive isms and phobias without pervasive monitoring and recording of our activities? Never could work that out.

  • 5
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    When Melbourne’s traffic system suffered the computer glitch the morning I wondered if hackers were having a test run.

  • 6
    paul walter
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    What is this god-awful problem leaders have with discourse and dissent?
    For heaven’s sake, why shouldn’t people talk about the world they live in, wonder how things will turn out and seek out information on which to base their decision-making. Stuff of life.
    The politicians use the code world “criminal” as a euphemism for “dissenter”.
    Assange, Manning and the like are the big problem for them, but what’s the real reason they are hounded? Because they turn up things like that video of that helicopter gunship massacre of civilians in Iraq.
    I would have thought any individual with even a shred of decency would have been disturbed by it, but far from deciding to improve the conduct of the troops under their command, or just get out of places where they are not wanted, they try to expunge the sources of such revelations.
    They just don’t like accountability.
    They are like kids trying to hide that they’ve messed their diapers.

  • 7
    TheFamousEccles
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    It is exactly this kind of discussion that will be stored and pointed to as evidence of “dissent” . I now fear the late-night knock because somewhere I agreed that someone in government is not doing their job properly. Are we allowed to tweet from Aussie gulags?

    They couldn’t send us to an offshore rehabilitation resort, could they? I need to work on my tan.

  • 8
    Greg Jones
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Capitalism and government working hand-in-hand to sell more stuff and heighten hysteria.

    There it is! The old firm of capitalism and government working hand in hand to enable slavery and freedom deprivation.

    It’s a bit like giving it to us up the khyber and making us pay for the privilege at the same time.

    Another very informative and poignant article in this series from Keane and Crikey.

  • 9
    Rab Zen
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    The planet is being controlled, to an alarming extent, by elites, or, as I call them, cartels. There are many cartels, but 7 are the most powerful. They evolve, they learn from one another, they both compete and cooperate. Unfortunately, the trend is more towards cooperation. These 7 cartels represent the following areas: GOVERNMENT, MILITARY, INTELLIGENCE, ENERGY, MONEY, MEDIA, AND MEDICAL…..I came to this map of cartels through my own research on the medical monopoly. That’s where it started, in 1986. .. Once you understand these cartel elites, you can begin to separate out information into loose layers of importance, as in, which layer of the control game are we talking about? Because it’s all about layers. And at most layers, the players are forwarding agendas which they do not realize fit into higher and more destructive agendas.” — Jon Rappoport

  • 10
    Tony Hancock
    Posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    When Melbourne’s traffic system suffered the computer glitch the morning I wondered if hackers were having a test run.”

    That’s an interesting comment regarding traffic.

    Ever wondered why govts have a fixation for spending money on roads and what is actually achieved in the process? There are several interesting theories but for the sake of a tin-foil-hat and some credibility probably not worth discussing.

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