Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Coming War | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A large number of online users across the Middle East have suffered severe delays in their internet service over the past few days. Service providers have attributed this to ‘disconnection or damage” to the submarine internet cable [SEA-ME-WE 4] which runs through the Mediterranean Sea. This is not the first incident of its kind. The odd thing is that the circumstances surrounding this issue remained shrouded in secrecy, and there was no logical clarification or explanation [for these internet problems]. Speculations about what happened were put forward, perhaps the most important of which was that a terrorist act may have been behind this malfunction, as if we have entered the era of online terrorism or weapons of “mass disturbance.”

Computer hackers are the new terrorists; and their capabilities and impact is on the rise. The term “Hacker” is the common name for groups or individuals who infiltrate internet websites and tamper with internet files and information in a destructive manner, thereby negatively impacting the productivity and employment of individuals, companies and even countries.

Richard Clarke, former US National Security Adviser and Special Adviser to the President on Cyber Security resigned from the government in protest of George Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq as well as due to the US government neglecting warnings against Al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks, however Clarke today returns as an independent security expert with no allegiance to any political party or the US administration. Following his resignation, Clarke wrote a memoir entitled “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror – What Really Happened” and he has returned today with a very different book called “Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It.” In his book, Clarke predicts that terrorist groups will launch a series of consecutive strikes against sensitive institutes in the West, such as banks, universities, water and electricity companies, and even the NASA Space Agency because these terrorist organizations have now become aware of how completely the world relies upon the internet, and how even minor disruptions can potentially paralyze the largest entities. Clarke believes it necessary that agreements be signed [between countries] to control hackers and outline the [sovereign] borders of cyberspace, and that such agreements must be no less binding than agreements on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. These agreements will ensure that countries to have sovereignty over their cyberspace and that these countries are responsible for any transgressions committed within their domain. This would facilitate tracing online crimes and tracking down offenders.

This step would ignite a fierce battle over ownership within cyberspace. We have seen glimpses of this conflict between the internet giant Google and the Chinese government. Prior to this the Chinese government also fought with Yahoo over the same issue, namely the right to censor the website and ensure that it does not leak security information. The two American companies consider this to be a violation of privacy and an infringement upon freedoms of expression and creativity.

A new kind of war has been declared by governments against [internet] companies, and security companies are waiting for the chance to promote the sale of security and anti-virus programs [to governments], which are equivalent to figurative chemical and nuclear weaponry in cyberspace. There will be tremendous damage if this problem is not taken care of. There was talk in 2000 about the damage that could be caused by the Millennium Bug, however nothing happened, but it seems that today the problem is far more serious.