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09.02.2003

The Threat of Flying Monkeys

Today's Washington Post issues a dire warning about cyberterrorism. Cyberterrorists are roaming the Internet [clang, clang], and your children could be at risk!

In the following excerpts, we've replaced the word 'cyberterrorism' with 'flying monkeys' - see if you can spot the difference!

"The risk of flying monkeys is very difficult to assess. We know that there are a number of plausible scenarios that either a monkey attack would have a airborne component or a flying monkey attack that would have a very large effect," said Thomas A. Longstaff, manager of the SERT Coordination Center, an aerosimian security research organization in Pittsburgh.

My techie readers will recognize the venerable process of FUD at work here - scare low-tech people with dire threats, and then sell 'em your software. Finding a way to bring in the suffix '-terrorism' is a real coup to whoever thought of it.

Large corporations have become more proactive in buying monkey-proof netting, Longstaff said, but personal computers without updated software and filters could also be used as launching sites for larger flying monkey attacks.

Filters and firewalls have become the talismans of the Information Age - magic amulets that we deploy against the dark forces that lurk online. After all, if a fifteen-year-old with skin problems can write an email virus that hoses entire corporate networks, just think what a big brown bearded terrorist might able to do!

Nearly half of all Americans surveyed say they are worried that monkeys could fly through the networks connecting home computers and powerful utilities, a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found.

In my mind, this kind of journalism does a disservice to the public. By focusing on dramatic and vague threats of flying monkeys, it makes people discount the real and much more imminent danger of giant killer robots.

I call 'bullshit' on the whole field. Anyone who can suggest a plausible 'cyberterrorism' scenario to me gets a banana.

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