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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 14:01 GMT
Cyber terrorism 'overhyped'
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology staff in Hanover

The threat posed by cyber-terrorism has been overhyped and the net is unlikely to become a launch pad for terror attacks.

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That was the conclusion of a panel of security and technology experts brought together at the CeBIT technology fair to consider the threat posed by net attacks on businesses and consumers.

Panel members said companies faced far more serious threats from ordinary criminals, fraudsters and pranksters than they did from technology-literate terrorists.

Combating these real threats would take work by almost everyone involved in the running and use of the net.

Selling newspapers

Respected security expert Bruce Schneier said the threat posed by so-called cyber-terrorism had been over-estimated.

"The hype is coming from the US Government and I don't know why," he said.

Fellow panel member Art Coviello, head of security firm RSA, said some of the warnings about cyber-terrorism had come about in reaction to the attacks on 11 September.

But, he added, sections of the media were also responsible for hyping the threat.

"Some of these stories are very entertaining and sell a lot of newspapers," he said. "Some media organisations are fanning the flames of this."

Mr Schneier said any terror group that wanted to sow panic and attack its ideological enemies was unlikely to turn to net technology to make their point.

Real threat more mundane

"If they want to attack they will do it with bombs like they always have," he said.

By contrast, he said, disrupting the running of the net and other communications networks would cause more annoyance than fear.

"Breaking pager networks and stopping e-mail is not an act of terror," he said,

If I cannot get my e-mail for a day I am not terrorised.
Bruce Schneier, security expert
Mr Schneier said companies and consumers should concentrate on real threats from common criminals, viruses and other malicious programs.

"Criminals tend to lag behind in technology by a few years," he said. "But once they find a technology they tend to use it and there is a lot of value on the internet."

Defending against criminals was difficult, said Mr Schneier, because they were often mixed in with the barrage of attacks companies suffered everyday.

Tackling these threats would take a lot of work by many of the organisations using and developing net technologies, said Mr Schneier.

One of the key tasks was to start creating a lawful society on the Internet, which educated people about the rights and wrongs of online life and that caught and prosecuted criminals.


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