Climate Hackers as Cyber Terrorists
December 22, 2011
One of the world’s most famous climate scientists, Dr. Michael Mann at the University of Pennsylvania, communicated often with Dr. Jones at East Anglia. In the original reporting, Mann was often quoted, misquoted and taken out of context. Though the investigations have found he did nothing wrong, climategate has nevertheless hurt him.
Mann told me that the people who can’t abide the idea of global warming being true “have no legitimate scientific leg to stand on. So, they have turned to criminal acts in an attempt to distract the public and policymakers.” Dr. Mann is convinced that the criminal act shows the work of “industry-funded front groups and the individuals who do their bidding.”
The question is whether this can be characterized as a simple cybercrime — or are there elements of cyber-terrorism involved? Bombing a building is an act of terrorism, but it is not the goal. The goal, according to experts, is to terrorize, immobilize and destroy one’s sense of security.
So I turned to one of the most respected cyber-terrorism experts in the country, Bruce Schneier. Schneier has been called to testify before Congress. He is the author of eight books on the subjects of cryptography, warfare, crime and terrorism committed by cyber-criminals.
Schneier told me: “What I’ve been thinking about is whether the hack was intended to intimidate, threaten or bully. Then the crime becomes an effort to stop people from doing legitimate research. So, it is not just a data theft, but has a goal of creating a chilling effect, a threat, an intimidation.”
Schneier understands the cyber world, but also the law of unintended consequences. “We are moving into a world in which everything we do is persistent,” said Schneier. By persistent, Schneier means it just doesn’t go away. “A phone conversation is actually archaic,” he said. “Today the conversation is by email or social media and those conversations are persistent.”
If everything we say never goes away, it can be brought back and used to harm us. “Gotcha politics is a good example,” Schneier says. “Record everything a politician says and find the two sentences he or she uttered to destroy them.”
He quotes Cardinal Richelieu, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”
I asked Schneier if “persistence” makes us less willing to communicate. “As we move in a world of persistent conversations, the ephemera disappears,” he said.
The ephemera he is talking about is the way we used to communicate — talking with one another. The conversation is gone — it is ephemeral. “A lot of our privacy was incidental to the ephemeral nature of our conversations,” he told me. “Two million emails were subpoenaed in the Microsoft trial. Not long ago those conversations would have been ephemeral. They would have been a chat in someone’s office.”
Dr. Mann has long believed that intimidation was one goal of the cyber criminals. “They want to intimidate, stymie, harass scientists who are out in front on the risks of climate change, and they want to serve notice to other scientists of what will be in store for them if they speak out.”
Schneier said: “How open would you be in conversation if you thought your words would be on the front page of the newspaper the next day?” It is a trend. We have moved, he said, into a new world where we are losing the natural privacy we once enjoyed.
Not only are our communications on the internet persistent, but so is memory. Dr. John Abraham, thermal scientist at the University of St. Thomas, told me: “Those crimes were used to fabricate lies about world-class scientists — lies that are still being repeated today.”
Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on.”
I’m hoping the shoes Scotland Yard and the FBI are lacing up are track shoes.