Cyber-war underway with citizenry targeted

Dave Masko's picture

EUGENE, Oregon – This community of computer programmers – spawned by the local University of Oregon and Oregon State University – has formed a growing technology industry that’s balanced between manufacturing and services. So when a “Virus Coming” warning went out early this morning, programmers took notice. At the same time, U.S. Cyber Command officially came on line this month without any fanfare as the government's watch-dog for computer virus attacks.

“POSTCARD” virus just the beginning, say experts

Computer software engineers and advanced computer programmers have issued an alert “that may have originated at Microsoft,” says Katie Shipley, a computer science expert in Eugene.

“What we have here is a possible start to cyber-war on the citizens of this country,” she adds, “and it could be very harmful if it goes unchecked.”

Shipley pointed to a warning that hundreds of thousands of computer users -- across the nation and overseas -- received in their e-mails both this morning, and earlier this week in various formats.
In general, the e-mail noted that a “Virus is Coming.” The message goes on to warn people not to open it for any reason.

“I’ve checked with Norton Anti-Virus, as well as others who track these virus issues. They all said “we know about Postcard. They’re thinking it could be hidden in an e-mail from a card company like Hallmark.”

On viewing a copy of a “controlled virus,” at a Eugene computer lab, “the virus opens to an image of a standard postcard. But, open it and it could burn the entire hard drive of your computer,” explains Shipley.

Moreover, this “postcard” virus is unlike other bugs that the bad guys send out. CNN has also been reporting a warning “not to open any e-mail dubbed ‘postcard.’”

Cyber Command ready to protect homeland

When the new U.S. Cyber Command was established in June after Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued the order, the plan was to bring Cyber Command on line “with full operating capacity coming in October 2010.”

The “order” is recognition that cyberspace is a “distinct military domain, along with land, sea and air, and the Defense Department must be prepared to defend and conduct offensive operations in it,” stated a Cyber Command news release.

“Cyberspace and its associated technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to the United States and are vital to our nation’s security and, by extension, to all aspects of military operations,” Gates wrote in his order. “Yet our increasing dependency on cyberspace, alongside a growing array of cyber threats and vulnerabilities, adds a new element of risk to our national security. To address this risk effectively and to secure freedom of action in cyberspace, the Department of Defense requires a command that possesses the required technical capability and remains focused on the integration of cyberspace operations.”

Thus, Cyber Command is now fully functional as of this month of October.

Moreover, something along the lines of “internet panic “ may be the first indicator that a cyber-war is underway, states guidance from the U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Mede, Maryland.

Overall, Cyber Command’s mission is to defend the Defense Department’s computer networks.

“Government cyber warriors will not have the time or recourses to help Joe Six-pack with a getting his money out when the banks crash,” said one local computer expert. “The only recourse for civilians is to remain diligent. If it all goes down, there’s little you can do to get your computer system back up. That’s why it’s called cyber-war. Its war, but with a different outcome than bombs falling on buildings.”

Still, the global information grid is of vital importance to Cyber Command because this new style of war fighting still requires access to intelligence as up to the minute that the Internet provides.

Since its activation, both Cyber Command and its predecessors in global network operations have reported hundreds of thousands of cyber-war attacks that have been stopped or controlled in some way.

“Perhaps the most secret of all the U.S. military operations is with Cyber Command. That’s the nature of its mission – to be secret,” said one Eugene computer expert who asked not to be named.

At the same time, what’s public about Cyber Command is a view that “cyberspace has proven equal and just as important as air, sea, land and space as a domain. It’s clear that it must be defended.”

Banks and national media will be hit first

The view from the experts who know just how vulnerable the Internet is to hacking is the first wave of a cyber-war will hit banks, government agencies and the national media. And, most likely, the perpetrators will never be caught “because the cyber world is so huge that one can hide easily,” say cyber-war analysts.

While there’s rumors that the Russians or even the North Korean governments may be involved in recent cyber attacks has not been proved.

More recently, experts from nearly 50 countries have petitioned the United Nations to come up with a plan, or a special task force to stop a potential cyber-war that could shut down many governments’ around the world.

“The problem is there’s “no smoking guns, no foot or fingerprints in virtual reality. What can we do?” said U.N. officials.

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