Net needs law enforcement, author says

The Internet is a "god-awful mess," but few U.S. government officials are willing to take action against virus writers, spammers and other scammers, author Bruce Sterling said at the Gartner IT Security Summit on Tuesday in the US.

Disorder and corruption are winning on the Internet, and computer users need the U.S. government to crack down on the thieves preying on the Internet, said Sterling, author of futuristic novels "Heavy Weather" and "Islands in the Net" and the nonfiction book "The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier."

"We had a digital revolution in the 1990s -- now we've slid into digital terror," Sterling said during his hour-long critique on the state of cybersecurity. "Today's Internet is a dirty mess -- it's revolution failed. E-commerce was extremely inventive for a while, but the financing model was corrupt. There was poor governance in the financial systems, there was worse industrial policy; the upshot was a spectacular industry-wrecking boom and bust."

Most of the advancements in Internet commerce since the dot-com bust have been illegal, Sterling noted, including spamming, identity theft, and "phishing," which is theft of credit card numbers or other personal information by directing customers to bogus Web sites to change their account settings. "If you advance into mayhem, that's not advancement, that's driving into a ditch," he added.

Sterling offered what he called a little good news about cybersecurity, the recent arrests of a handful of virus or worm writers, including the arrest in May of the 18-year-old German man who allegedly wrote the Sasser worm. "The world is never going to run out of disaffected teenagers," he said.

But Sterling said he's not overly worried about bored 18-year-old worm writers who are unsophisticated enough to get caught; instead he's concerned about the authors of such malicious code as Slammer, Code Red, and Witty because they haven't been caught.

The authors of the Witty worm targeted users of Internet Security Systems Inc.'s products, while the Bagel and Mydoom virus authors attempted to turn infected computers into spam-sending machines, Sterling said. "Bagel and Mydoom are the future of virus-writing because they have a business model," he said. "Those are organized crime activities. ... These are crooks."

Virus and worm writing will grow as a weapon for terrorists and warring nations, he predicted. Terrorists operating in places with little central government control will begin to see cyberterrorism as an effective weapon because of a lack of international cooperation on cybersecurity enforcement, he said. He listed a dozen such countries, including Somalia, Bosnia and the Philippines.

"This is the birth of a genuine, no-kidding, for-profit ... multinational criminal underworld," he said. "I don't see any way it can't happen. We're going to end up getting pushed around by bands of international electronic thieves in a very similar way to the way we've been pushed around by gangs of international Mafia and international Mujahideen terrorists."

The new tools of terrorists and criminals will be "oil, narcotics, guns and broadband," he said.

With cyberthreats likely to rise, the U.S. government needs to focus on enforcement of existing laws, including antifraud laws, Sterling said. He praised New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who prosecuted Buffalo spammer Howard Carmack earlier this year, as well as other white collar criminals. Although virus writers and many spammers break existing laws, most prosecutors seem reluctant to take on computer cases, Sterling said

"In my opinion, we need a thousand guys like (Spitzer)," Sterling said."We've got a ridiculous amount of computer laws."

Efforts such as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, passed by Congress in late 2003, are "phoney-baloney gestures," Sterling said.

Instead of weak laws, the U.S. government needs to sponsor a multistate computer crime task force that enforces existing laws, he said. He also recommended that the U.S. post names of spammers and other Internet scammers on a Web site for everyone to see.

Sterling also praised parts of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, released by the Bush administration in February 2003, calling it "modest and feasible." The document recommended that nations work together to combat cyberthreats, and such cooperation is needed to fight borderless cyberterrorism, Sterling said. But the strategy is likely to go nowhere after former Bush cybersecurity chief Richard Clarke criticized his former boss' counterterrorism efforts in a book released earlier this year, Sterling said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?