IT's war, then again, maybe it's not

Surprise, surprise, a report by the OECD into cyber security threats has recommended the media, suppliers and everyone in the IT security ecosystem should tone down the rhetoric. Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics, who co-authored the report with Dr Ian Brown of the Oxford Inst

Surprise, surprise, a report by the OECD into cyber security threats has recommended the media, suppliers and everyone in the IT security ecosystem should tone down the rhetoric.

Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics, who co-authored the report with Dr Ian Brown of the Oxford Institute at the University of Oxford, said people were too willing to use the term "cyberwar" to describe espionage, hactivist blockading or defacing of web sites.

He argued it was not helpful "to group trivially avoidable incidents like routine viruses and frauds with determined attempts to disrupt critical national infrastructure".

Lumping together things like phishing e-mails, a virus outbreak and a concerted attempt to break into a computer system by stealth under the heading of "attack" resulted in "grossly misleading conclusions".

One of the big problems is a term like 'cyberwar' is often used by lazy journalists and hyperbolic security suppliers to glamourise what is, to all intents and purposes, a very dull subject.

While this is understandable, it shouldn't be allowed to continue. It's all a question of perspective. Imagine how confusing it would be if the newspapers started treating street muggings with the same gravity as a conflict between two countries, or if they described a spat between two minor celebrities as a 'war'? Ah...

This was first published in January 2011

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