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Rise in Hacktivism Highlights Risks

Rise in Hacktivism Highlights Risks

When governments appear determined to act in defiance of the wishes of vast numbers of their own citizens, who see their opposition as deeply moral, they can hardly be surprised when some of those citizens decide to retaliate. Civil disobedience, assert many anti-war activists — some with long experience to back them up — is the only way to make recalcitrant governments sit up and take notice.

We saw this willingness to break the law in the actions of the 1300 anti-war activists arrested in a single day in San Francisco in March. We saw it when Glasgow train drivers refused to allow trains carrying munitions heading for the Gulf to reach their destination. We saw it in The Netherlands when the self-styled Action Group Against Military Transport went to the headquarters of the MTMC (Military Traffic Management Command) at Capelle aan den IJssel, near Rotterdam, and chained themselves to the gates. We saw it again when Australians chained shut the gates of The Lodge and blocked the entrance to a defence building in Melbourne.

So it should come as no surprise that less than a day after the US invasion of Iraq began, the UK’s Government Computer News (GCN) was reporting war protesters and hackers had begun sustained attacks against .gov and .mil Web sites “in digital retaliation” for the war in Iraq. London-based security firm mi2G Ltd claimed the attacks were both sustained and determined. “We have noticed more activity in the last 36 hours than we have ever seen. It’s record-breaking,” company chairman D K Matai told GCN. Hacktivism has been on the rise ever since.

US Presidential cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt saw nothing surprising about the attacks, saying they were not unexpected under these circumstances. “Headline issues bring out people who want to attack systems,” he said, noting some of the attackers would have been political hacktivists expressing a point of view, some might have been searching for sensitive data, and some activity is routine and not related to current events.

In Australia Telstra’s chief technology officer Dr Hugh Bradlow denied there was any prospect of a retaliatory cyberterror or info-war attack on Australia’s critical telecommunications infrastructure. But with some activists determined to make the waging of the war as difficult as possible for those who got us into it, the risk of hack attacks can’t be overstated. As former Director of Strategic Policy in Air Force and now Director of Stratwise Adam Cobb wrote in these pages last issue, the stakes are never higher than in wartime. The consequences of lax data security should, say, hugely sensitive personal data on all the families of the Defence personnel serving in the war on Iraq get into the hands of JI, could be disastrous.

So it is particularly disappointing to hear Auditor Generals in Victoria and The Northern Territory so recently giving government agencies more black marks on IT issues such as business continuity, disaster recovery and security.

Effective security in all Commonwealth government agencies is crucial to Australia’s national interest, and never more so than in times of conflict. Public servants can’t be held accountable for unpopular government policy, but they can and will be blamed if the consequences of that policy end up having a high security cost, unless they have acted consistently and vigilantly to prevent such damage.

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