Information Warfare: February 23, 2002


Even the "invisible Internet" is at risk, and this is more of a military peril than most other Internet vulnerabilities. For years it was thought that the routers that invisibly (to users, anyway) kept everything on the net moving efficiently, were safe. But in early 2002 it was discovered that for ten years there had been a serious flaw in router software that made it possible for someone with the right skills to shut down routers, or gain control over it. Black hat hackers have often discussed taking down an entire country's Internet. This is their idea of a prank. India and China are often mentioned. Both of these countries have relatively small Internet infrastructure, plus there are cultural issues. A lot of American programmers are a bit miffed at the many lower paid (but highly skilled) Indian programmers "taking American jobs." Indian programmers who immigrate to the United States often end up in senior positions (or starting their own companies) by dint of hard work and superior skills. This upsets some of the locals, so the idea of taking down Indian Internet is a popular day dream. But these recently discovered router vulnerabilities make such fantasies closer to reality. China doesn't send nearly as many programmers to the United States, but the programmers back in China are a nationalistic lot and there are regular skirmishes between American and Chinese hackers. Taking down the Chinese Internet, if only for a few days, is seen as the ultimate "can you top this" Internet hack. For cyberwarriors, the ability to knock out, or take control of, selected portions of the Internet has real military value. Before the early 2002 SNMP problems were discovered, it was already recognized that the routers and DNS servers were vulnerable. But the SNMP problem provides the malicious hacker with a more precise weapon.


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