Sunday, August 17, 2008

BULL, REDEFINED: LA Times fears cyberwar, Bruce Willis arrives on cable

In today's lead editorial, the Los Angeles Times lays it on thick.

"Among the more disturbing aspects of Russia's invasion of Georgia (other than the usual bombing and shooting of people -- added by DD) is that it was accompanied by a wave of cyberattacks on government websites," wrote an editor. "The combination of electronic and physical punches illuminated how ill-prepared the world is for this new kind of warfare."

Yes, not being able to see a government website sure is hell.

(The piece is here -- entitled "Georgia under cyberattack." In the paper edition, it's the much more pompous "War, redefined." Additionally, you can't find the article from the frontpage of the newspaper's website. This is unintentionally funny since the piece purports to be about conflict in cyberspace and the newspaper, as part of its new makeover, is always shilling its bloated web presence as a source of extra content distinct from the delivered edition.)

Here's a question for the poobahs in the newspaper's editorial section. And it's not a trick one.

How many people have died or been maimed in cyberattacks in the last fifteen years?

If you read this blog regularly, you know that DD was among the first to write authoritatively on cyberwar. First in the pages of the Crypt Newsletter, later for other well-known web security publications and, especially, for the National Academy of Science publication, Issues in Science & Technology. Fourteen years ago, I thoroughly dissected the mythology of cyberwar, then called "electronic Pearl Harbor" by the US government.

So when editors at big daily newspapers start writing about war redefined and dubbing, what with regards to what has happened in Georgia, only qualifies as a minor nuisance, you know they're -- like -- making the shit up wholesale.

Which brings us to Live Free or Die Hard, the Bruce Willis movie on "electronic Pearl Harbor," which aired on extended cable last night.

Last year, DD wrote about it here.

Part of the script was attributed to an old piece of exaggerations and fictions --John Carlin's "Farewell to Arms" -- published in a 1997 issue of Wired magazine.

Promising cyberwar, virtually nothing in it was prescient in any realistic way.

However, the article ignited part of the script for Live Free or Die Hard. And DD enjoyed watching the movie in which Willis, as John McClane, drags around a dweeby hacker as cyberterrorists assault the United States.

In the script, the cyberterror operation functions as the power of God, furnishing catastrophes to dog McClane, always narrowly failing to kill him while tearing up the landscape, gunning down others, and paralyzing the country.

The cyberterror operation is run by a former good guy, a Pentagon advisor who tried to stiffen national cybersecurity but was laughed at for his trouble. So the man, named Thomas Gabriel, goes to the darkside and launches electronic Pearl Harbor as cover for downloading all the country's electronic money to his hard drive.

Gabriel has a henchwoman, a hot but small girl dressed in tight black who is also a kick-boxer. Making the best of a bad acting situation, Tim Olyphant hams it up as Gabriel until the very end of the movie when, as everyone knows, John McClane gets to kill him.

As seen on TV, Live Free or Die Hard is eminently satisfying.

Willis, in playing McClane, has his own God-like power. He flings a car he's driving at a helicopter, downing it to the surprise and shock of the evildoers. Later, the kick-boxing hot chick almost gets the better of him. But you know she's inevitably done for, too.

In fact, one of the best parts of the movie is how without resource the cyberwarriors turn out to be in the face of the erupting volcano that is the John McClane character. Everyone else on the good side stands around looking puzzled as traffic lights absurdly turn green everywhere, or computer screens go wonky. But not Bruce Willis, who delights in taunting the head cyberterrorist over the cellular phone.

And with all their access to personal and government databases, not one of the cyberterrorists says: "Hey, wait a minute. This McClane guy has single-handedly chopped down three other major terror operations in the last fifteen years, killing every single one of the people involved -- including a small army of special forces men. Maybe we should stop aggravating him and run for it!"

John McClane obviously knows more about cyberterror than LA Times opinion page men.

DD won't spoil any more of the movie, should you have cable. Look for the small part played by the actor formerly known as Tuvok, the nerd African-American Vulcan science officer from the old Star Trek Voyager series. Sadly, he is not afforded much in the way of a comeback opportunity.

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