[ISN] Next world war to be fought with virus hoaxes

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Sun Sep 13 1998 - 06:55:17 PDT

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    United Press International journalist James Adams' new book, "The Next
    World War," is a priceless example of how mainstream reporters continue to
    propagate old myths and hoaxes about information warfare. 
    Adams recirculates the hoary tale of the Gulf War printer virus hoax in
    his book on the future of combat. If true, Crypt Newsletter supposes
    future combat will be mighty cheap, being fought primarily with dueling
    virus hoaxes and other info-war myths. 
    This hoax's many permutations revolve around the central idea that the NSA
    developed a computer virus for use in the Gulf War, a virus that was used
    to disable the enemy's air defense system. Supposedly secreted in a
    microchip in a printer destined for Iraq, the virus was supposed to
    somehow emerge from the printer and bushwhack Iraqi air defense computers
    hooked to the same network. 
    This was the result of a bald-faced April Fool's story that appeared in
    Infoworld magazine, subsequently taken seriously and presented as such by
    US News and World Report in "Triumph Without Victory," the latter
    publication's book on the Gulf War. 
    "The Next World War" is just another in a long line of examples sprinkled
    through the mainstream media and other seemingly authoritative sources
    that have been taken in by this joke. Indeed, the Gulf War virus hoax is
    an almost inescapable component of computer lore -- the operative word
    being lore. 
    Rob Rosenberger of Virus Myths comments, "Too bad [Adams] didn't do more
    research . . . [he] gives the story an interesting twist. The virus didn't
    get a chance to do its job because the U.S. Air Force accidentally bombed
    the building where Iraq stored the printers!" 
    "The 'Gulf War printer virus' story carries no credibility, no matter how
    highly placed the source" or whatever mutation it appears in," added
    However, the Gulf War virus hoax isn't the only virtual Piltdown Man to
    appear in "The Next World War." 
    Adams also bites on the chupacabras of info-war, the electromagnetic pulse
    gun built from Radio Shack parts. 
    In 1996, Forbes ASAP magazine interviewed a crew of hackers who insisted
    an electromagnetic pulse gun -- a kind of electric ray that could be used
    to destroy PCs from afar -- could be built from Radio Shack parts and car
    In the story, entitled "Hack Attack," the Forbes reporter queries the
    "dangerous ex-hackers" about electromagnetic pulse guns. In response they
    spin a fantastic tale of its use -- again, against Iraq. [Part of this
    interview appears in Adams' "The Next World War."]
    The section of the original from Forbes ASAP is digested here: 
    Forbes writer: Have you ever heard of a device that directs magnetic
    signals at hard disks and can scramble the data? 
    Dangerous ex-hackers, in unison: Yes! A HERF [high energy radio frequency]
    Dangerous ex-hacker A: This is my nightmare. $300: a rucksack full of car
    batteries, a microcapacitor and a directional antenna and I could point it
    at Oracle . . . You could park it in a car and walk away. It's a $300 poor
    man's nuke . . . 
    Dangerous ex-hacker A: There are only three or four people who know how to
    build them, and they're really tight lipped . . . We used these in the
    Persian Gulf. We cooked the radar installation. 
    In other parts of the article the hackers comment that there are a lot of
    "snake oil salesmen" in the computer security business. 
    "The Next World War's" mention of the electromagnetic pulse gun
    chupacabras is fairly characteristic of the literature on the subject.
    Claims are made of a mysterious technology capable of doing bad deeds to
    computer networks.  The weapons are in the hands of hackers, criminals,
    terrorists, or shadowy Russian scientists -- never sources of much
    credibility or ones that can be easily located. No examples are ever
    produced. No incidents of computer damage by electromagnetic pulse gun are
    ever provided that can be independently verified. 
    "The Next World War" is a good example of the problem faced by the average
    reader with little experience in the area of discussion. Simply, the
    layman has a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between hoaxes and
    reality, particulary once such tales have become embedded in sources
    traditionally taken to be "authoritative." 
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