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  Washington Is Unprepared to Fight Cybercrime
  Brandon Musler Copyright 2001 Computerworld, Inc.

A federal investigation that caught "Mathias Thurman" in its web [Security Manager's 
Journal, June 18] begged the question: How much encouragement do government agencies 
deserve in combating cybercrime?

Computer cracking, once a tribal status-marker, has gone mainstream. It's so rampant 
that the unofficial scorekeepers of the hacker wars at Attrition.org have stopped 
mirroring Web site defacements. They burned out. On some days in May, three times as 
many Web sites were tagged as in all of 1995 and 1996 combined. Like tattooing or body 
piercing, hacking is becoming pedestrian.

The media and Washington have been following this trend. The FBI, which enforced 
Prohibition and prosecutes the war on drugs, wants in. Addressing "cyberterrorism" 
offers a way to capture headlines, influence legislatures and secure more money. 
That's a godsend for any federal agency, especially the beleaguered FBI.

The June issue of CIO magazine contains a wrong-headed article suggesting that 
corporate America invite the FBI to investigate all cybercrimes. That's akin to 
writing a blank check to an investigative agency and praying that it develops 
technology expertise. The General Accounting Office recently criticized the efficiency 
of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center. Its director, Ronald Dick, 
didn't deny it. Instead, he cried out for more resources, meaning, of course, a bigger 

Compare the hacking epidemic to the war on drugs. For decades, Washington has 
commissioned task forces, executive studies and special agencies, without stemming the 
tide. This centralized approach failed despite international borders, a multitude of 
police forces and endless prevention programs. Most narcotics are grown in known 
areas; there are relatively few suppliers at the source. Substance abuse is a finite 
problem compared with hacking because illicit drugs can't be electronically replicated.

The hacker wars are taking place in our living rooms and offices. Hacker traffic flows 
unimpeded until it arrives at your electronic doorstep. It's not checked for 
contraband at geographical boundaries. Law enforcement agencies can't compensate for 
inadequate laws. Kids learn to hack in school because understanding computer 
networking is a valuable skill.

Thus, there are more potential computer crackers than crackheads, the difference being 
that every high school hacker is simultaneously a supplier and consumer of the 
electronic "illegal substance." They can get as much as they want, for free, forever.

Yes, we must keep international hackers-for-hire out of defense, power and air traffic 
control infrastructures. But we don't understand the prosaic "packet kiddies" problem 
yet, let alone have solutions. It makes little sense to involve the FBI every time an 
electronic graffiti artist hits a local business. Heaping money on federal agencies 
will not generate results until we address root causes.

Washington should prioritize funds for successful nongovernment organizations such as 
the SANS Institute and CERT Coordination Center before artificially donning the mantle 
of leadership. CERT has extended a response model originally evolved by antivirus 
vendors to the larger Internet community. This proved invaluable during the Melissa 
virus rampage, when the center coordinated the efforts of commercial and 
not-for-profit organizations.

If we really want to, we can still buy illegal drugs. It's a lot harder for 
surveillance aircraft to spot a bad packet header than it is to identify a 
drug-carrying Cessna crossing a border without a flight plan. If you're confused, 
don't feel bad, because your congressman may not have a clue either. Tell him that 
until he can explain it to you, he should "just say no" to tackling the hacker menace 
with your tax dollars. Brandon Musler is a freelance IT writer and consultant in New 
York. Contact him at [EMAIL PROTECTED]

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