Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Lost in Cyberspace

Spying on InfoCon, SpookTech 98 and other Web secrets

This article was originally published on April 14, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

The Internet has been a godsend for the spy thriller set. What with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the folks who write – and buy – the paperback descendants of James Bond have been kind of hard put to find a decent bad guy.

Until the explosion of the Internet, that is, and the arrival of the media-heralded Information Age.

Now there are all kinds of potential fictional enemies out there waging electronic warfare against the United States. It's to the point that the movie "War Games" which was once firmly in the realm of science fiction is now more likely to be found in the thriller rack at the video store.

Of course, on the down side, not all of those involved in information war are fictional. Recent headlines about economic espionage arrests and trials point out that as more and more government agencies and businesses have their records stored on computers accessible from the Internet, the threat of electronic espionage is growing.

Maybe the best place to start learning more about information war is at a Web site dedicated to it, The site is updated fairly often, and has lots of info on legislation, technology, conferences and other publications.

A lot of the technical stuff will go right over the head of most of us who are not specialists in the field of electronic security. But fancy gizmos like HERF (High-Energy Radio Frequency) guns and other secret weapons are enough to pique the interest of anyone.

As part of the whole burgeoning electronic security industry, there will even be a full-blown trade show this September in San Francisco – InfowarCon (details of which can be found on the site). There's a call for papers going on now, with suggested topics ranging from "Open Source Intelligence for InfoWar" to "Joint Global Information Operations versus InfoWar?" and "International Law Enforcement and Cooperation" to "InfoWar Disaster Response Training" (which makes one think of heavily armed computer geeks hacking away in black SWAT outfits).

Somewhat less seriously (all right, considerably less seriously) is SpookTech 98 set for June 5 in New York City, where you are promised the information you need to spy on others (or prevent them from spying on you). This show is geared more to the Soldier of Fortune crowd, with the Web site breathlessly promising the latest info on electronic spying – including the ability to crack PGP-encoded messages. (PGP is shorthand for Pretty Good Privacy, considered the state of the art in commercial message encryption programs. It's so powerful – supposedly a message encrypted by a 286 PC would take a Cray supercomputer years to uncode – that the U.S. government has banned it from being exported.)

The same site, Codex Surveillance and Privacy Page, and turn your sound levels down because the MIDI Muzak is hideous), also offers a moderated list forum on surveillance issues.

Another good site is run by Georgetown University. The Cryptography Project is academic in tone and content, but there are good articles on the so-called Clipper chip (a hardware encryption standard that would allow eavesdropping by law-enforcement and intelligence authorities), on U.S. export laws and on legal cases like those revolving around PGP being made available for free on the Internet. There is also a great set of links to other encryption and electronic spying sites.