RealTime IT News

The Internet: 'A Dirty Mess'

WASHINGTON -- The digital revolution has degenerated into an underworld of organized crime, dirty tactics, black ops and terrorism, said science fiction writer and cyberpunk pioneer Bruce Sterling Tuesday.

Keynoting a morning session of Gartner's 10th Annual IT Security Summit here, Sterling said, "This is the birth of a genuine, no kidding, for-profit, electronic, multi-national criminal world. The global criminal world of oil, narcotics and guns now has broadband."

And, according to Sterling, they are fully utilizing the technology.

"These are not all old-school hackers. This is organized crime activity. They are profit driven," he said. "These are crooks. The crooks that in the future that are going to elbow the hobbyist kids aside and settle in for a nice, long vampire slurp from our e-commerce."

Sterling classified most computer crime as "ancient evils" running rampant in a new electronic world that does not recognize borders. The Internet, he said, is the public face of globalization, and corruption is not only thriving online, but winning.

"In 2004, it's about computer activities that used to be regarded as weird mischief or acts of deviant curiosity slowly sliding into the darkness," Sterling said, adding that the perpetrators of the crimes are not particularly technologically adept.

"Al Qaeda is not real cyber savvy. Neither, for that matter, are spammers, credit card thieves, ID thieves or software pirates," he said. "They are multi-national bloodsuckers. They have to be cyber savvy because they are crime savvy."

As examples, Sterling said there are very few new types of crime proliferating on the Internet. Phishing, he said, is just another form of doing business under false pretenses. Loan sharking, he pointed out, has found a new expression in financial scams, and theft of intellectual property is still theft even if it is "disguised in the form of peer-to-peer file sharing."

The solution, Sterling believes, is not more laws or even more law enforcement personnel. The bottleneck, he said, is prosecutors willing to go after cyber criminals.

"We have lots of computer cops, and American cops are as savvy about computers as any social group in the nation," he said. "We have a ridiculous amount of computer laws."

Sterling called the Can Spam Act passed earlier this year a "bunch of phoney baloney. People say it can't be enforced because the spammers will just move overseas. Nobody says we should have crack houses on every corner, because if we don't, crack dealers will move to Colombia."

Sterling advocates an aggressive "blame and shame" campaign against spammers that would begin with an "arrest-a-spammer-a-day" effort. For Sterling, that campaign would begin in Boca Raton, Fla., home of many spammers and characterized by Sterling as the "Capone-Chicago of cyber fraud."

"If they move out of the country, we'll grab them and throw them into Guantanamo," he said.

As for national cyber security, Sterling said the government's recent National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace has merit, but there is no such thing as "national cyberspace." International cooperation will be needed but warned that the Internet will not go away in any place it touches. Many of those places, he said, "are where no decent human being would want to go."

Further compounding the national security initiative is the report's author, Richard Clarke, who recently testified against the Bush Administration's preparedness for the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

"It's highly unlikely [the plan] will be smiled upon, not because it is bad, but because he [Clarke] wrote it," Sterling said.

All in all, Sterling said, "Today's Internet is a dirty mess."