Cybersecurity Hyperbole in Congress
We’ve heard quite a bit over the last week about an attack against U.S. government web sites. It’s been a top story on TV and in newspapers, as journalists use alarming terminology evocative of military invasion.
Members of Congress have picked up the alarming tone, speaking in tones of dread about the attack. “A powerful attack overwhelmed computers,” Representative Adrian Smith from Nebraska warned on Friday.
Actually, the attack was not particularly powerful, nor were most U.S. government computers overwhelmed. Mostly what happened is that there were a few glitches in public access to a few government web sites. The American people, including journalists who frequently use government web sites, had to be told that a cyberattack was underway a few days after it began. It wasn’t self-evident.
The attack was a DDOS campaign – dedicated denial of service. It was equivalent to a Ferris Buehler prank in sophistication. Government web sites were inundated with automated attempts to access its web sites, making the sites slow in responding to legitimate users. For the most part, these surges were not successful in disabling government systems.
This form of attack is nothing new. Private web sites have been attacked in this way for years. Irregular Times was attacked in this way a couple years ago by people upset at our irreverent attitude about Islam.
Irregular Times was knocked down for a couple of days, but then we bounced right back. There was no lasting damage. We don’t have any dedicated technnical staff. We’re just a small group of writers. If we can withstand this kind of attack, then the government can deal with the issue easily.
The issue of denial of service attacks is worth paying attention to, because these attacks are an annoying nuisance that interfere with the ordinary free flow of ideals through the Internet. They should not, however, be exaggerated as a new front in the war on terror. Politicians like Adrian Smith who suggest that the USA is under threat from a devious foreign enemy that has the power to destroy the Internet as we know it need to turn down the volume of their rhetoric, and not give the hackers more attention than they deserve.