Monday, May 27, 2013

Is “cyber war” just a scare tactic?

Officials warn of looming Armageddon. Critics say it's a subterfuge to erode online privacy and accountability.


ATLANTA, Ga. — A growing legion of cyber war hawks contends that the world faces a mounting threat of hacker-driven cataclysm. These hawks warn of downed power grids, contaminated water supplies and derailed trains — at the hands of antagonistic governments or malevolent cyber gangs.

Doves, on the other hand, caution that the threat is exaggerated. They see uncertainty over the risks, and contend that cyber-hysteria is a subterfuge deployed by security firms hungry for profit, and by government officials seeking to erode privacy and accountability.

So is cyber war an existential threat, or an excuse to let big brother into our lives?

For insights, GlobalPost spoke with Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading digital rights watchdog. Tien is a senior staff attorney specializing in cyber security, communications and surveillance.

The interview has been edited and condensed by GlobalPost.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the United States faces the threat of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.” He conjured images of toxic gas clouds, train derailments and a poisoned water supply caused by cyber attack. Is this fear mongering?

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