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“Fears aside, al-Qaeda ill-equipped for a major cyberattack”

March 20, 2011

My latest opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"no computers here"

The websites for the CIA and the hosting site WordPress were knocked off-line this month by a “massive distributed denial of service” attack. Was this, as some feared, the work of al-Qaeda?

The concern seemed at least plausible, especially after Undersecretary of Defense William Lynn, in late February, painted a frightening picture of a toxic malware that the terrorist organization might develop. The mind reels to think that America’s No. 1 enemy could create a weapon as dangerous as Stuxnet, the virus deployed against Iran’s nuclear program. However, it’s doubtful that Osama bin Laden could pull it off.

Read more…


Declaring war on cybermetaphors

March 10, 2011

Check out my latest article in Huffington Post on cyberspace and the dangers of utilizing lousy metaphors:

Top men tell us that dark forces — China, Russia, criminal elements, spies, terrorists, and hackers — are burrowing deep into America’s digital infrastructure, looking to exploit weaknesses, wreck security and cause mayhem. Last month, CIA Director Leon Panetta testified to Congress that “the potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber-attack,” adding to a list of terrifying analogies used to describe the cyber peril, “Cyber 9/11” and “Cyber Armageddon” among them. And the future looks bleak. As former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Michael McConnell wrote a year ago, “The United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing. It’s that simple.”

These are smart individuals with weighty responsibilities, but with respect to the threat from cyberspace, they are also crummy rhetoricians. Comparisons to traumatic national events by identified enemies focus on the binary us-vs-them distorting the way to tackle this complex problem. As Stuxnet, WikiLeaks, and subsequent hacker initiatives indicate, the fight is indeed on for control of the global cybercommons. However, as top DHS officers recently noted, cyberspace is “not a war zone.” Scripting a cinematic showdown, where a digital Wyatt Earp loads his pistol with ones and zeroes and blows away the bad guys at the Cyber OK Corral, is terribly misleading.

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Canned Beets v. Ice Cream

January 25, 2011

This is rather off-topic for for this on-again, off-again blog, but I just discovered– much to my chagrin while making a pot of borscht–that one can of Safeway pickled beets contains more sugar than one serving of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.



The beets’ can says “4g of sugar” per serving — but there are, evidently, 9 servings per can!  So 9  times 4g = 36g of sugar.








Compared to the ice cream:  27g of sugar per serving…but 4 servings per pint.  So, you can tear through 1/4th of a Ben & Jerry’s pint and still consume less sugar than Safeway’s beets.  And, evidently, get more Vitamin A and Iron in your daily diet!



And I made some 12 servings of soup.   Blech.


Trials by Fire

October 25, 2010

Also, it looks as if my year-long project, Trials by Fire: Counterterrorism and the Law will be finally hitting the Belfer Center presses!  I haven’t seen the final copy yet, but it should be out shortly…more to come…

Cyberspace and the US National Interest

October 25, 2010

This is the first post in many months – have been busy with a number of things.  But my Belfer Center discussion paper, Protecting Cyberspace and the US National Interest, that I co-authored with Michael Sechrist, has been finally published.

From our summary:

We assess ‘protecting cyberspace,’ while extremely important, does not rise to the level of a first-order national security challenge as countering nuclear proliferation and defeating al Qaeda because most threats to America’s digital infrastructure do not undermine core security interests. Most challenges to cyberspace, such as cybercrime, cyberespionage and cyberterrorism, can be ably handled by domestic law enforcement and intelligence services. The exemption to this assessment would be so-called ‘cyberwar’ between nations; however, a sophisticated, serious digital attack on the US would likely be attributable and carried out by states in concert with conventional kinetic options — acts of war that would provide the US the legal, moral and military authorities to respond.

Read more…

needlessly terrifying article of the week

February 8, 2010

Following up on terrifying demon-goat political advertisements, this article in Popular Mechanics should guide you to taking the bus instead of a plane the next time you need to go somewhere…

Granted, the odds of surviving a 6-mile plummet are extra­ordinarily slim, but at this point you’ve got nothing to lose by understanding your situation. There are two ways to fall out of a plane. The first is to free-fall, or drop from the sky with absolutely no protection or means of slowing your descent. The second is to become a wreckage rider, a term coined by Massachusetts-based amateur historian Jim Hamilton, who developed the Free Fall Research Page—an online database of nearly every imaginable human plummet. That classification means you have the advantage of being attached to a chunk of the plane. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was traveling in a DC-9 over Czechoslovakia when it blew up. She fell 33,000 feet, wedged between her seat, a catering trolley, a section of aircraft and the body of another crew member, landing on—then sliding down—a snowy incline before coming to a stop, severely injured but alive.

The Most Terrifying Political Ad ever

February 4, 2010
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…from California, naturally.  It’s a nightmare (the feverish section starts about halfway through) – although I’m a bit baffled – does this ad suggest that upstanding members of the CA Republican party are sheep?  And what then are the Democrats?  I don’t understand the underlying motivations here…except to haunt your dreams.