Study Makes Less of Hack Threat

Friday, 15 November 2002, 8:09 AM EST

Despite the panting about "cyberterrorists," and despite the scare mongering about venomous hackers preying on fragile federal networks, attacks on government computer systems are declining worldwide, according to a recently released report.

In the United States, reported intrusions into government networks fell from 386 in 2001 to 162 in the first 10 months of 2002. Worldwide, such attacks have declined by about a third - from 2,031 last year to a projected 1,400 today.

The report, from the British firm mi2g, comes just a day after the U.S. Justice Department indicted Londoner Gary McKinnon for breaking into military and NASA systems - and the U.S. Congress approved a $903 million bill for beefing up computer security.

"As we move forward in our war against terrorism, it will be as important for us to secure cyberspace as it will be for us to secure the homeland against malicious attack," Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) said after the passage of the Cyber Security Research and Development Act.

To many in the computer security world, mi2g's numbers show just how craven these sorts of statements are.

The government hacking figures are like the "similar and consistent drop in violent crime statistics. Despite these facts, politicians have been claiming the public was under siege. Here we go again," wrote Oxblood Ruffin, founder of the Hacktivismo online action group, in an e-mail. "Threats will always be exaggerated because that's how one strip mines civil liberties. This is the real battleground."

The anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush last October, makes it easier than ever for federal authorities to pry into e-mail, phone conversations, voice messages -- even Web surfing paths. It also punishes unauthorized computer access with up to five years in jail.

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