A New Kind of War

BALTIMORE – “Hey, Dad, did you see this?” said our son Edward yesterday. Edward was chronicled yesterday as a boy; now he is a man. A lot has happened in the intervening 10 years.
“Anonymous … the international network of computer hacker activists … has joined the war on ISIS.”

 

anonymous_wallpaper_hd___by_thenextlover-d57gbi5Back in 1988, the DC Comics imprint Vertigo published Alan Moore’s graphic novel “V for Vendetta”. The iconic Guy Fawkes mask used by the story’s protagonist – a vigilante who starts a revolution against a fascist British government in a dystopian future – has made quite a career since then (Anonymous’ new war is reportedly beset by quality control issues though).

Image credit: thenextlover

 

Now, this was news! A man in a Guy Fawkes mask – speaking in French – vowed revenge on ISIS for the Paris bombing. As far as we know, this is the first time an unknown, unfindable, and unidentifiable group has declared war on anyone.

 

A French chapter of Anonymous declares war on ISIS (again) following the Paris attacks of November 13.

 

Anonymous has no troops, no bombs, no tanks, no flags to wave, no medals to award, nor any fat contracts to give out. It levels no towns. It annihilates no armies. It rapes no women. It hands out no candy to children. What kind of war is this?

We turn to an essay from the archive for a closer look at just how far all this hacking has gone:

 

Time-Wasters and Nuisances

American writer and economist George Gilder argues that information precedes and creates wealth.

 

slider-knowledge-and-power

It is of course the human mind and human action that transform nature-given resources into wealth. Ongoing technological progress is helping this process along. And yet, countless things that have seen the light of day in recent years – including reams of useless information – seem a bit dubious in this respect.

 

“In the beginning was the word,” he recalls in his book Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World. The “Internet of Things” is an attempt to give the word flesh. So far, the skeleton is pretty bare.

But although the Internet may not be able to create wealth, it can surely destroy it. Think of all the hours wasted on Facebook! Think of all the billions of unnecessary email messages that need to be processed.

Think of all the hours spent trying to figure out how to program home-heating/cooling control panels… install new software on our computers… send photos to relatives… and otherwise keep up with the latest techno-fads?

But those are just time-wasters and nuisances. Wired magazine recently ran a well-publicized test. Could computer hackers take command of a modern automobile by gaining control of its electronic systems? Andy Greenberg at Wired reports:

 

“I was driving at 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold. Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system.

Next the radio switched to the local hip-hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass. […]

As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.”

 

Hackers_hijacked_Jeep_using_wi_fi_leavin_3205310000_21846567_ver1.0_640_480Car remotely hacked via Wifi ends in a ditch

Screenshot via abc News

 

To cause this kind of havoc, the hackers didn’t need to modify the Jeep. Nor did they need to attach any physical devices – or have any physical access – to the vehicle.

Instead, they “got in” through the entertainment system, which was connected to the Internet, as it is in most modern cars. This gave the hackers entry into the control system. The “Internet of Things” suddenly looked like the “Internet of nothings.”

The hackers hadn’t created wealth; they had destroyed it. They made a $25,000 automobile worthless. “Hackers Kill a Jeep,” was the Wired headline.

 

The jeep-hackers at work, taking control of the car remotely with a lap top and a cell phone.

Photo credit: Whitney Curtis for wired.com

 

Wreaking Havoc

Tim Price, an analyst in our London office, offers:

 

“It’s a potent example of how cyber-attacks can wreak havoc beyond the world of bits and bytes. If you can remotely crash cars, you can – theoretically at least – remotely stop passenger airplanes… tanks… and fighter jets. Presumably, that’s why United Airlines grounded flights for nearly two hours in early July due to a “network connectivity issue.”

This may seem like a run-of-the-mill kind of problem… like dropping your Wi-Fi connection while surfing the Web. But it takes on more sinister overtones when you consider that the outage happened on the morning the New York Stock Exchange was forced to halt trading “in all symbols” due to a computer “glitch” of its own. The website for the Wall Street Journal also went dark at the same time.

Also in July, the Obama administration revealed that hackers stole personal information – including fingerprints and Social Security numbers – belonging to 21.5 million U.S. federal government employees. It’s no surprise that cyber-security is big business… and a political and economic priority. With a little imagination, hackers could shut down power grids… send nuclear reactors offline… and even fleece the world’s biggest and most powerful banks.”

 

Hacking away in the dark. Most people are unaware of the true extent of computer-criminality, as organizations and businesses that are attacked often try to keep such information under wraps for PR reasons.

Image via insidesources.com

 

It seems that the surest source of profits from the new technology may be in companies that try to stop it.

New technology helped create the power grid… ATMs… traffic lights… flash mobs… ISIS… and Social Security’s payment system. Now, all are at risk from Anonymous and other hackers with newer technology.

It’s war all right. And that will cost real money…

 

Image captions by PT

 

The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

 

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