Information Warfare: August 14, 2001


One advantage the U.S. military (and government officials) have when dealing with black hat hackers is the ancient PCs and software many troops and bureaucrats are stuck with. While most civilian firms replace their PCs every 2-4 years, the military and government hang on theirs for ten years or more. This is not as bad as it sounds. For one thing, many basic tasks (like word processing, spreadsheets or small databases), ten year old PCs can still get the job done. Since military and government organizations never get as many PCs as they need, they hang on to the old ones rather than have none at all. It takes some ingenuity, and visiting computer flea markets, to find spare parts for these ancient machines. But you will still find a lot of them in the back rooms of military bases and government offices. Until last year, the FBI was still using a lot of late 1980s 386 class PCs (possessing about two percent of the computing power of todays PCs). The major problem with these older PCs is that they cannot run the more recent operating systems, and modern web browsers. PCs that old cannot, without great difficulty, access the Internet (the older communications software is not compatible with todays internet and the more recent browsers cannot run on a 386.) It is still possible to rig up some email access, and the major advantage is that these ancient machines are much less vulnerable to malicious viruses and worms snaking about the internet. One military aspect of this is that many less affluent nations have older PC equipment. There has always been a brisk market for older computer equipment in parts of South America, Africa and Asia. Many of the armies, and rebel groups, in these areas have this ancient equipment, and the immunity to modern hacking tools that obsolete PCs bequeaths. Older is sometimes better, and one better be ready for it.


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