Buzz of the Week

Warfare 2.0

It seems amazing that the 2001 terrorist attacks were six years ago. In some ways, the event that changed everything seems like it was just yesterday. Yet, in other ways, it seems like it has been a long trek.

The attacks remain an event ' particularly in New York and Washington ' that people remember. The anniversaries are a time for remembrance and sharing stories about where each of us were when the attacks occurred.

For government agencies, it became a defining moment. There are obvious changes, such as the creation of the Homeland Security Department. But there are also more subtle changes. Even discussions about Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 are layered with emotions from the 2001 attacks.

Many of the squabbles that were occurring before then have come to the fore again.

Perhaps the biggest change in thinking is that ideas once considered unthinkable are thinkable today. Before the 2001 attacks, few people thought about the potential for terrorists to crash planes into buildings. Today, there are seemingly limitless possibilities, which makes risk management much more difficult.

With all of that as a backdrop, the Financial Times broke the story last week that the Chinese military hacked into a Pentagon computer network in June in what the newspaper called the most successful cyberattack on the Defense Department.

Later in the week, Chinese government officials denied that its military would conduct such attacks.

In Aug. 22, 2005, in a story headlined, 'The new Trojan war,' Federal Computer Week reported on China's efforts to attack U.S. military networks and the fact that the Chinese military sees the U.S. military's dependence on networks as an Achilles' heel.

Undoubtedly, China and other countries are eyeing the U.S. military's computer networks. The International Herald Tribune reported last month that 'Chinese defense planners have identified the heavy dependence on computers of most modern military forces as a potential weakness that could be exploited in a conflict.'

Quietly, the cyberwar may have arrived.

#2: A scary Monster
'Alert: Users be aware! Some USAJobs contact info has been compromised.' That isn't what the federal government needed in the midst of a recruitment and hiring campaign. But that's the message everyone sees now when they visit the USAJobs Web site. The Office of Personnel Management has been working to expedite the stodgy federal hiring process by outsourcing its job-posting and r'sum' database to Monster.com ' a career site with more than 2 million subscribers. But all that personal information sitting in a database was too tempting for someone, who unleashed a malicious software program with a tell-all name, Infostealer.Monstres. That bit of malicious code grabbed the names of 146,000 USAJobs subscribers in an automated data heist that OPM, Monster and security experts are still investigating.

#3: Give us a break
Build an electronic fence along the southwest U.S. border to help authorities enforce the country's immigration laws ' it sounds easy. But Boeing has not met its deadline for constructing the first segment of that fence. It was supposed to be working by June, but it now appears that integrating various cameras, radar systems and sensors is no easy task. Also, capturing streams of data from the electronic fence and integrating them with various communications networks requires a bit more tinkering than everyone expected. The Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection agency says it could be another two, four, six or eight weeks before the electronic fence is working as advertised.

#4: Brain dead
Maryanne Wolf, who directs the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, has sounded the alarm about the effect of today's computer culture on what she terms 'the reading brain.' Wolf, in a new book with the engaging title 'Proust and the Squid,' said the mental focus necessary for reading could be endangered by all the Web browsing and quick searching that passes for reading these days. She said she is concerned that children could miss out on the deeper development of their intellectual potential. Reading is not easy for the human brain, she said, raising the possibility that we could easily lose that
capacity.

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