Cyber Eye: Consider thanking hackers for security

William Jackson

In February, the FBI's National Infrastruc-ture Protection Center warned would-be vigilantes that Uncle Sam did not want their help in a cyberwar against Iraq. 'The U.S. government does not condone so-called 'patriotic hacking' on its behalf,' NIPC advised.

About a week later, Bill Neugent's self-published novel No Outward Sign, about a patriotic hacker defending the country against Iraqi cyberattack, went on sale at the Amazon.com Web site. The timing was good, said Neugent, who has a day job as chief engineer for Mitre Corp.'s cybersecurity consultancy in McLean, Va.

'The adversary could be anyone,' Neugent said. 'When I started writing four years ago, Iraq seemed like a good choice. It's just lucky things have worked out this way.'

Current events rocketed the novel from 1.7-millionth place in Amazon.com's sales to 488th, Neugent said, and 'it stayed there for a full hour.' It recently was ranked No. 10,918.

Neugent ever drew complimentary reviews from Air Force CIO John Gilligan ('exciting and thought-provoking') and Bruce Brody, associate deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity at the Veterans Affairs Department ('riveting, entertaining, authoritative').

Neugent wanted to demonstrate the shortcomings of our current cyberdefenses. 'The Internet is the land without controls,' he said. 'Cybervigilantes are free to do things the government can't do, more quickly and effectively.' If responsibly done, he added, free-lance cyberdefense 'is the wave of the future.'

Neugent thinks hackers already have done the nation a service. 'My personal opinion is, we wouldn't be nearly as secure as we are if it weren't for hackers coming at us,' he said. 'That's forced business and government to get serious about defending themselves.'

To free up restraints on government response, cyberincidents should be treated as attacks, not as crimes, he said, but 'making that happen is going to be hard.' He thinks the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace is the beginning of a shift in philosophy because 'it does not fall back on mandates.'

Problem is, the restrictions that hog-tie government also protect civil liberties. There is a delicate balance between security and liberty, and the introduction of a new theater of war without borders will make that balancing act more difficult.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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