Clarke joins latest cyberterror debate

Proposals for a World Security Organisation to tackle cyberterrorism continue to alarm experts, including former White House cybersecurity chief Richard Clarke
Written by Dan Ilett, Contributor

Richard Clarke, the former White House cyber security advisor, has criticised a UK company for using the term "cyberterrorism".

DK Matai, chairman of security consultancy company mi2g, put forward proposals to the Oxford University Internet Institute on Thursday night for a World Security Organisation to tackle cyberterrorism. Matai argued that the threat was so great that governments should consider setting up electronic counter-attack forces to battle radical groups and organised criminals online.

In response Clarke, who was a security advisor to four US presidents, said he disliked use of the word "cyberterror" as he doesn't believe it actually exists.

"Cyberterrorism is not a term I like," said Clarke, now chairman of Good Harbor Consulting. "Many different groups use cyber-vulnerabilities and it's hard to know who they are. Some may be terrorists, but not many. It's a very serious problem that costs millions, but it's not terrorism."

Matai made his proposals in a lecture to the Oxford University Internet Institute, an academic forum that debates on the development of the Web. Members include Derek Wyatt MP, chairman of the All Party Internet Group, and Richard Allan MP, chairman of the European Information Society Group.

Other security experts are also unconvinced that cyberterror poses a genuine threat, with one leading anti-virus expert branding the plans as "barmy".

Last year, the UK president of the Information Systems Security Association Richard Starnes said that cyberterror was not yet a reality.

"Cyberterrorism is a word that the press loves because it gets people to read stories," Starnes said. "A good portion of what we get is not terrorism. Terrorism is where you try and change the political situation of a country by using terror. Web defacements don't really count for that. Terrorists use the Internet for recruiting, fundraising and research, but not a lot else."

Other observers share his scepticism. Speaking at the CeBIT technology fair last year, security expert Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security, said the threat posed by cyberterrorism had been overestimated. He added that rather than fostering a climate of fear, disrupting the Net and other communications networks would probably just annoy people.

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