26th June 1998
Fight evil on the internet
There is a hazy state between nightmare and waking, and I am in that haze. A bad dream lingers in the throat and on the tongue like a stale taste. The staleness can go on and on, all day, poisoning everything.
A bad dream is one that can really come true.
My bad dream is Israel, crippled and ultimately destroyed by the technology I am working so hard to promote.
I was awake when I dreamed it. I am researching a novel, something different from my psychological thriller Ella, something in the political arena. In the first pages Israel is held to ransom by anonymous computer hackers. My inspiration was a remark by a former FBI agent, who warned that ten skilled programmers with Internet access could have America at their mercy within 90 days.
If this was possible, what could those ten terrorists wreak upon Israel – a state more vulnerable, more plotted against and more dependent on electronic defence systems than any place on earth?
There was no shortage of research material. Half a dozen newsgroups – computerised noticeboards where anyone can pin up a message – are devoted to discussing the subject. In a virtual community where everyone is computer literate and many are dependent on technology for their income, this topic affects everyone. Can computers be used to blackmail governments? To subvert justice? To kill?
The answer, I quickly discovered, is yes. Yes. Yes.
And that begs another question, to which there can be no answer – is evil unavoidably present in new technology?
Up to now this argument has centred chiefly on pornography. But the abuse of file transfers, to send perverted pictures around the world, is of little significance compared to the obliteration of a country, the crushing of its culture, the slaughter of its people.
It is widely believed that the American bombing raid on Baghdad which launched the Gulf War in 1991 was achieved by infecting Iraq’s central radar computer with a virus which turned co-ordinates to soup. What if Saddam Hussein, alerted to the practical possibilities of developing software bugs, decided to retaliate – first blinding Israel’s electronic eyes and then sending over waves of Scuds?
Worse – what if any anti-Zionist terrorist, anywhere in the world, created the virus? No capital is needed – just a patient, methodical mind and access to the ‘net, available at any university in the West.
The nightmare deepens. All private computer networks, even military intranets, have ‘trapdoors’ to give technicians access when the system fouls up. If this trapdoor is discovered, the damage possible is limited only by the hacker’s imagination.
All systems, however secure, are built with parts manufactured elsewhere. No army makes its own chips. What guarantee is there that Israel’s most sensitive computers were not infected at the construction stage, with chips programmed to self-destruct or corrupt at a give signal or time? What if, even now, terrorists are waiting for a pre-programmed date, when Israel’s satellite links will implode? Or its air traffic control systems? Its mobile phone networks? Its television stations?
KGB technicians invented an explosive device which radiates electromagnetic pulses, waves of energy that blow out every piece of electronics in range. James Bond battled this weapon in Goldeneye – but the KGB’s secrets are on the open market now, and even superheroes can’t tell who is buying the technology of destruction today.
There is no waking from this nightmare. It is too real. All we can do is fight. And, as every Israeli knows, the surest way to fight fire is with fire.
Because we cannot ignore this technology, we must all become acquainted with it. Everyone who values freedom must take the trouble to understand how to access the Internet. It needn’t cost anything – there are plenty of cyber cafes where you can get a lesson in web-surfing for the price of a cup of coffee.
Learn how to contact government organisations, and eMail them – let them know you’re out there. Learn how to download up-to-date data. Make the people who run the vital systems aware of their vulnerability.
Until now, an unspoken arrogance has been the Achilles heel of these programmers. They imagined they were safe from interference, because the ordinary mass of humanity would never use their systems. They forgot that terrorists are not part of the ordinary mass of humanity.
Today, using the Internet is as simple and as basic a factor of freedom as using your vote. Learn to do it.
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