Do you like cyber-music? If your answer is in the affirmative, could you please explain the difference between music and cyber-music? Fret not if you can’t. Instead, ask Marcus J. Ranum, credited for many innovations in the firewall technology, the same question and he will retort: “Does putting ‘cyber’ in front of something automatically mean it’s new, different or, more interesting?” And then he answers his own question to emphasize the anomaly, “No, it doesn’t. Music is music, cyber or otherwise.”
Ranum, in Qatar recently as a speaker at the Information Security Conference “New Trends in the Energy Sector” organized by QCERT, says he’s really irked when people get carried away by the use of the word “cyber”. Music is just one of the simpler analogies he uses. But you can easily apply it to other more definitive concepts like cyber-war, cyber-criminal, cyber-spy, cyber-terrorist, and so on. Considering he’s been in the information security sector for more than 20 years, he would know.
Cyber-criminals and cyber-terrorists, for instance, are poles apart. A cyber-criminal is like bacteria – you take antibiotics to get rid of bacteria and it works initially…but if you keep taking antibiotics again and again, bacteria becomes immune to the mechanism. Once cyber-criminals understand your tactics used as defense against them, they improvise, and find new and creative ways to infiltrate your firewall. Cyber-criminals are secretive, profit-driven and operate on a hit & run modus operandi. Once a scam they perpetrate in a region is publically known, they move on to a new place. They rapidly shift to where the money is and commonsense isn’t.
Cyber-terrorists, on the other hand, are interested in letting everyone know what they have done. Their tactic is also hit & run, but they operate to create fear and believe in high-visibility for their acts. “WikiLeaks,” says Ranum, “is a perfect example of cyber-terror.” Wikileaks could have been an act of cyber-crime, if for instance, rather than making all the “leaks” public, they had started blackmailing governments.
Whether it is music, war, crime, war or terrorism, once you add “cyber” it doesn’t mean anything different from the original word. Cyber-war would need as much attention to detail, planning, strategy, manpower (maybe a tad less), money and logistics as the real, physical war would. So what’s the big deal? According to Ranum, “nothing.” So if war and cyber-war are not much different wouldn’t weapons and cyber-weapons be almost the same? The author of “The Myth of Homeland Security” (he’s the man who set up the White House email and whitehouse.gov), replies with a confidence hardly found in us lesser techie mortals, “One of the most valuable tools in such a situation would be counter-intelligence.”
Counter-intelligence has been used in warfare for times immemorial. And that truly can be a cyber-weapon worth fighting any cyber-war or cyber-crime or cyber-terror or cyber-espionage, etc. So if you are prone to a cyber-attack, stay vigilant and keep trying to find out more and more about the attack. If they can break into your code, so can you. And this is the only effective way to counter any cyber attacks.
Watch the video below for Ranum’s candid comments and useful insights about relevance of firewall, antivirus, future of security, open source products, cloud computing security and of course, cyber-war. We interviewed Ranum at the Information Security Conference.
Editor’s note: Marcus J. Ranum, Chief Security Officer of Tenable Security, Inc., is a world-renowned expert on security system design and implementation. At Tenable he is responsible for research in open source logging tools, and product training. He is more recognized as an early innovator in firewall technology, and the implementer of the first commercial firewall product.