‘Hey, Dad, did you see this?’ said our son Edward yesterday.
Edward was chronicled yesterday as a boy; now he is a man. A lot has happened in the intervening 10 years.
‘Anonymous…the international network of computer hacker activists…has joined the war on ISIS.’
Now, this was news!
A man in a Guy Fawkes mask — speaking in French — vowed revenge on ISIS for the Paris bombing.
As far as we know, this is the first time an unknown, unfindable, and unidentifiable group has declared war on anyone.
Anonymous has no troops, no bombs, no tanks, no flags to wave, no medals to award, nor any fat contracts to give out.
It levels no towns. It annihilates no armies. It rapes no women. It hands out no candy to children.
What kind of war is this?
We turn to an essay from the archive for a closer look at just how far all this hacking has gone:
Time-wasters and nuisances
American writer and economist George Gilder argues that information precedes and creates wealth.
‘In the beginning was the word,’ he recalls in his book Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionising Our World.
The ‘Internet of Things’ is an attempt to give the word flesh. So far, the skeleton is pretty bare.
But although the Internet may not be able to create wealth, it can surely destroy it.
Think of all the hours wasted on Facebook! Think of all the billions of unnecessary email messages that need to be processed. Think of all the hours spent trying to figure out how to program home-heating/cooling control panels…install new software on our computers…send photos to relatives…and otherwise keep up with the latest techno-fads?
But those are just time-wasters and nuisances.
Wired magazine recently ran a well-publicised test. Could computer hackers take command of a modern automobile by gaining control of its electronic systems?
Andy Greenberg at Wired reports:
‘I was driving at 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold.
‘Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system.
‘Next the radio switched to the local hip-hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass. […]
‘As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.
‘Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.’
To cause this kind of havoc, the hackers didn’t need to modify the Jeep. Nor did they need to attach any physical devices — or have any physical access — to the vehicle.
Instead, they ‘got in’ through the entertainment system, which was connected to the Internet, as it is in most modern cars. This gave the hackers entry into the control system. The ‘Internet of Things’ suddenly looked like the ‘Internet of nothings.’
The hackers hadn’t created wealth; they had destroyed it. They made a $25,000 automobile worthless.
‘Hackers Kill a Jeep,’ was the Wired headline.
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Tim Price, an analyst in our London office, offers:
‘It’s a potent example of how cyber-attacks can wreak havoc beyond the world of bits and bytes. If you can remotely crash cars, you can — theoretically at least — remotely stop passenger airplanes… tanks… and fighter jets.
‘Presumably, that’s why United Airlines grounded flights for nearly two hours in early July due to a “network connectivity issue.”
‘This may seem like a run-of-the-mill kind of problem… like dropping your Wi-Fi connection while surfing the Web. But it takes on more sinister overtones when you consider that the outage happened on the morning the New York Stock Exchange was forced to halt trading ‘in all symbols’ due to a computer ‘glitch’ of its own. The website for the Wall Street Journal also went dark at the same time.
‘Also in July, the Obama administration revealed that hackers stole personal information — including fingerprints and Social Security numbers — belonging to 21.5 million U.S. federal government employees.
‘It’s no surprise that cyber-security is big business… and a political and economic priority.
‘With a little imagination, hackers could shut down power grids… send nuclear reactors offline… and even fleece the world’s biggest and most powerful banks.’
It seems that the surest source of profits from the new technology may be in companies that try to stop it.
New technology helped create the power grid…ATMs…traffic lights…flash mobs…ISIS…and Social Security’s payment system. Now, all are at risk from Anonymous and other hackers with newer technology.
It’s war all right. And that will cost real money…
For The Daily Reckoning, Australia