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Battle by binary

Solar Sunrise: War on the Internet

Deep red, bleak cactus Sunrise

Every section of society has its use for computer. Utilities companies use computers to manage their power plants or water supply. Commercial companies use computers to collect and store data about consumer behaviour, helping them to improve and better market their products. The public, regular people like you and me, use computers to do our word-processing, play games, and keep in touch with people no matter where they are. Of course the military also have a great need for computers, as they use them to co-ordinate complex strategies and tactics, and for developing new weapons. The Internet brings all of these computers together. With the amount of highly sensitive information under the jurisdiction of military groups, and the potential consequences of this information falling into the wrong hands, the ideal scenario would perhaps be for the military to have developed their own Internet. It would be accessible and usable only by their own computers, with no access to information for unauthorised personnel. However, this is impractical given the way the internet is structured, it is not so much a single entity controlled by a central source, but rather a vast network of computers and servers that communicate with each other across a complex series of routers. In any case, the need of the military to communicate with the rest of the government and the public requires that many of their computers be connected to the wider world via the Internet.

The lessons of Solar Sunrise

Solar Sunrise was a series of attacks made over the Internet on the United States Department of Defence's computers in 1998. These attacks occurred at a time when the USA was preparing for potential military action against Iraq, due to disputes over UN weapons inspections. The attacks were described by the then USA Deputy Defence Secretary John Hamre as "the most organised and systematic attack to date" on US military systems. So who was behind these attacks? Iraq? Terrorists? Foreign Intelligence Services? Rogue Middle-Eastern States? Possibly it was the work of an expert hacker with a grudge? Well as it turned out it was actually the work of three teenagers from California and Israel. Thankfully, no losses of human life came about from this incident, but it does bring home the terrifying prospect that the military bodies in place to protect our security could be compromised in this way.

War is never good, but have any good things come from it? This article is part of a series by James Snee, Marc Trepanier, Daniel Valverde and Yi Ming Woo, students at Queen Mary, University of London, investigating how military and security concerns are linked with the advancement of technology.