by David Safier
Cyber attacks are real, no question. Cyber security is an important national security issue. But as the subject is chewed over daily in the news media and fear of a crippling attack is racheted up, let's put this discussion in context: There's big money on the line. Many business interests want us scared witless so lots of money is spent to protect our nation's computer systems.
When I was in DC last week, I attended a Senate committee hearing on cyber security where Janet Napolitano talked with legislators. It was held in a large room with, I'm guessing, 300-400 seats for spectators. It was packed. I came in a few minutes late and ended up standing. I left after an hour of Senatorial quacking (those folks can talk forever and say almost nothing) followed by a long introductory speech by Napolitano about the importance of passing tough cyber security legislation.
Why so many spectators? I asked myself. I got my answer when I read The Hill that night. The room was packed with lobbyists. I should have made the connection. Almost everyone was wearing the lobbyist's uniform — men in dark suits, white shirts and ties, women wearing dressed-for-importance business suits. You see them everywhere on the streets around the Capitol, hurrying from one building to another and in and out of cabs, always looking purposeful, always carrying some kind of brief case or portfolio (No shoulder straps. I guess straps indicate weakness).
The computer security companies like, for instance, Symantec which makes anti-virus programs for personal and office computers, are salivating over the money that will come their way if cyber security legislation comes with lots of funding. So they're spreading around lots of money and lobbyists to make sure the elected officials spend like sailors or be accused of being soft on cyber terrorism.
Expect to hear increasingly frightening stories about threats to our cyber security in the coming weeks and months as legislation is prepared. Cyber terrorism is the latest version of the WMD scare that was ginned up by the Bush adminstration to promote the Iraq War. Lobbying firms, like government officials, know how to plant stories in the media to ratchet up people's fears. Is this an important issue? Yes. But remember, you're getting the hard sell. Caveat emptor.