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Computer Wars: Cyber-Attacks “Can Get Very Scary Very Quickly,” Expert Says

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief
Fin - Daily Ticker - US

Less than a year after the 'Stuxnet' virus hit its nuclear facilities, Iranian officials said Monday the nation is facing another cyber-attack.

Gholam Reza Jalali, the head of an Iranian military unit in charge of combating sabotage, said it discovered an "espionage virus," which he called "Stars," the AP reports.

For anyone worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions, this is welcomed news. But given broader concerns about cybersecurity, the attacks on Iranian facilities are also frightening to contemplate, says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.org).

"If they do that, what else could they do?," Rotenberg says of the creators of programs like Stuxnet and Stars. "Could you remotely detonate a nuclear device? Cause missiles to misfire? It can get very scary very quickly."

In the aftermath of the WikiLeaks revelations and attacks on the Epsilon e-mail network, the world has entered a new era, Rotenberg says. "Everyone is thinking much more closely about new risks and vulnerabilities, particularly around military installations that some of these computer networks may have created."

On a related note, former NSA director Admiral Mike McConnell penned an op-ed in The FT in which he writes: "The nation's finance, electric, power, water, land transport, air traffic control, industrial control systems must be protected" from potential cyber-attacks.

Rotenberg agrees, in principle, but notes McConnell's plan calls for greater government oversight of computer systems, which could lead to invasion of privacy and further expansion of the Defense Department, which recently launched a virtual fourth branch of the military: The U.S. Cyber Command.

"Government has different goals — security on the one hand, but of course they might be interested in surveillance [too]," he says. "Roll those things in on top of security and you've got other things happening on the network."

What do you think? Is the risk of 'cyber-attack' great enough to warrant more government control of the Internet and computer networks? Or is this 'threat' being hyped as a way for the 'military industrial complex' to exert even grater control and influence over society?

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @atask or email him at altask@yahoo.com