It has been called the ‘fifth dimension of warfare’. Along with land, sea, air and space – the cyberworld is increasingly becoming a new frontline.
Innovations in technology are changing the tactics of modern-day conflict. There are new tools in today’s arsenal of weapons. Helped by advances in electro-magnetics and modern information and communications technology, a new form of electronic warfare has been created. It is called cyberwar and is increasingly recognised by governments and the military as posing a potentially grave threat.
|“If you have a few smart people and a good computer, then you can do a lot. You don’t need an aircraft, you don’t need tanks, you don’t need an army. You can penetrate another country, create huge damage without even leaving your armchair.”
Alon Ben David, military analyst for Israel’s Channel 10
And it is not just cyberwar that is a growing phenomenon. The internet has empowered cyberactivism, allowing people to share information and mobilise support to take direct action – both online and on the streets.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been at the forefront of this new wave of cyberactivism, helping to galvanise the protests that have recently spread across the Arab world.
The so-called Arab Spring has been described as an electronic revolution. Protesters were turned into citizen journalists – taking frontline images on their mobile phones and uploading them via their computers for the world to see. The regimes may have jammed the signals of satellite news channels and banned international reporters from entering their country, but they were unable to prevent citizens from becoming reporters in their own right.
From cyberactivism to cyberwar
Using the internet as a platform for political action is one thing. But infiltrating and disrupting computer networks and databases takes cyberwar to another level. American security experts have warned that a cyber-attack could cripple key governmental and financial systems and it is a threat the US is taking seriously.
|“Cyberspace is real. And so are the risks that come with it. From now on, our digital infrastructure, the networks and computers we depend on every day, will be treated as they should be, as a strategic national asset.”
Barack Obama, the US president
In recent years a cyberwar has been brewing between China and the US, with both countries accusing each other of running an ‘army of hackers’.
A key battlefield in this war has been the case of Google.
The US internet company partially withdrew from China in 2010 after a tussle with the government over censorship and government-backed hacking.
China accuses the US of using Google to spy on the country, while Google accuses China of hacking into the email accounts of some of its members.
|“We must differentiate between independent hackers and those of the state. We must understand that in some countries the authorities hire hackers with excellent technical knowledge to serve their interests. Everything is possible and states shouldn’t accuse each other since all options are open in this war.”
Han, a Chinese internet hacker
The US also appears to be engaged in a cyberwar with another erstwhile enemy: Iran.
It appeared to begin in 2009 following Iranian anti-government protests – sparked by the disputed presidential elections which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win another term in office.
Seeking to deprive the opposition of its main means of mobilising the masses, the Iranian authorities sought to choke off internet access.
But the protestors continued to use sites such as YouTube and Twitter and when Twitter planned some routine maintenance that would have taken it offline for a few hours, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, asked the site to stay up and running while the protests continued.
Electronic eyes and ears
In the Middle East, Israel has set up a cyber command to secure the country against hacking attacks on its key networks.
Israel’s immediate neighbourhood is the place where it puts into use much of its technical know-how. Along its northern border with Lebanon, Israel deploys a large network of electronic eyes and ears.
And in the ongoing intelligence war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, increasingly sophisticated electronic equipment is being used.
In February 2010, Lebanon arrested a man who reportedly confessed to being a Mossad agent. It was claimed that he had used sophisticated surveillance equipment that sent signals to his Israeli handlers via a mobile phone and computer located in a hidden compartment inside his car.
It may all sound like science fiction, but a global spying network does exist that can eavesdrop on every single phone call and email on the planet.
Eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages has become increasing easy for those with the right equipment, especially with the development of GSM networks – the technology used on the vast majority of mobile phone networks around the world.
|“Give me your mobile phone for 30 seconds, give me 30 seconds alone with your mobile phone and I can install software that would make your mobile phone a travelling microphone. From that moment on, even if it is shut down, your mobile phone will broadcast everything that goes on around you, through a number that I determine.”
Alon Ben David, military analyst for Israel’s Channel 10
A brave new world?
Many analysts are amazed at how internet users voluntarily hand over vast amounts of personal data to social media sites.
And planting software into a person’s phone or computer to steal data has become a new tactic of warfare in the fifth dimension.
|“Our entire life is now on the internet: personal information, emails, credit cards. We give all this information on the internet to sites like Facebook, Google and Amazon. Governments impose pressure on these sites as they know how much information they have. These governments have asked for personal information from these sites, and they gave them what they needed.”
Marwan Taher, IT specialist
We live in a brave new world of information and communication technology. The possibilities seem infinite, endless … and uncertain.
Terrorist organization Al Qaeda has launched a different kind of attack on the U.S., this time releasing a dangerously adorable photo of a piglet wearing boots that’s spreading like wildfire across the Internet, the Onion News Network reports.
The photo so cute that it’s a threat to national security has been seen all over the web, crippling servers as it’s sent by email, posted on Facebook and seen on one very familiar-looking website.
Watch “Factzone” anchor Brooke Alvarez’s full report on Piglet-gate 2011 below. “ONN” airs Fridays at 10:00 pm. on IFC
Al Qaeda Attacks Internet With Photo Of Adorable Piglet
Earlier this week we brought you the adorable rant of a 5-year-old girl
with some very strong opinions on marriage and her future career. While it was undoubtedly entertaining, so many questions remained. Who is she? Is she being coached? And what does she want to be when she grows up that’s so much more important than settling down?
Thankfully, the girl’s older sister (hardly though – she’s 11!) who uploaded the video toYouTube
has shed some light on the subject and shared another hilarious video with the world. Her sister claims the first rant is genuine and is only part of a 15-minute video, of which she uploaded a second segment found below. In this one, her little sister explains how she longs to be a comedian or writer like Jerry Seinfeld, who she seems to idolize.
This clip contains even more cuteness than her first thoughts on marriage. Not only does she lament not knowing how to write, but says her career as a comedian is never going to take off until she gets on Twitter (“I need someone to tweet me!” she says).
If this second video (or the fact that her first video has over a million views) still isn’t enough to convince you this girl is the next viral star, she’s even been given the auto-tune treatment. And it’s only her first week online!
WATCH: Part two of her rant
WATCH: The Auto-tune remix
Really, I’m not kidding, unless yours is a very unusual company when it comes to your online presence, your Web site probably does suck. Badly.
No; it’s not that your site looks that bad (we hope), it’s that the other aspects of your site make visitors, such as me, angry. You see, your problem is not about the aesthetics of your online content (though you might need a little help in that area), it’s all about “usability,” about how easy it is for your customers and prospects to navigate around your site and use its features and fill in your forms.
Yep, a large number of you are apparently alternately clued when it comes to your Web site’s “feel.” I can only assume that you allowed someone else in your organization to get your Web site “done” and then you paid no mind to the results or maybe you managed the development yourself despite knowing next to nothing about what you were doing.
Here’s a test of whether you are at all qualified to be involved in the design of your own Web site: Go and browse your site, fill out the forms, try all of the features out … if you can’t find something wrong or something that needs improving, then it’s pretty safe to say you haven’t much of a clue about online design because there is no such thing as a Web site that is finished or doesn’t need some kind of polishing.
Now, should your Web site be purely informational—no forms, nothing to do with user accounts, and so on—then you know what you need to do: Go find someone who can put a little spit and polish on your Web content. Ask your buddies, look for a Web designer … these people aren’t hard to find, you just need recommendations from people you trust. Call me if you need help here … I know people.
So, we’ll assume you’ve got the look part of your online presence more-or-less right, but what’s it like for someone to try to find their way around the site? What’s it like to set up an account and fill in forms on your site? This is where huge mistakes are made by so many companies.
Consider the registration process on your site: You provide a form which you expect your hapless victim, er, sorry, registeree, to complete. One or more of the fields will be for a password (actually, there should always be two for new passwords so that you can detect when users mistype their password) and there is, I suspect, a label saying “Enter password” perhaps with an asterisk next to it denoting “mandatory field”.
Now, if I’m the guy filling in your registration form, I’m going to use a serious password. By “serious” I mean one that’s not guessable. For this task, when I’m using Windows, I use a feature of one of my all-time favorite utilities, Roboform
Roboform integrates with your Web browser (all major browsers are supported) and when it sees you entering a name and password, it offers to remember the details. Then, whenever you want to go to that site, you just select the saved entry from a list that’s available in a browser toolbar and voila! There you will be, your browser will automatically load the target site, fill in the login data, and press the “login” button for you.
There’s a lot more than just that to Roboform but the feature that’s relevant here is the product’s password generator. In the Roboform toolbar there is a button labeled “Generate” and clicking on it reveals the generator dialog. Using this you can choose how a new password will be constructed, for example, the number of characters in the password as well as which types of characters are to be included such as upper and or lower case alphabetic characters, symbols, and numeric characters.
What prompted me to write this column was a well-known online service I was trying to set up an account on the other day where I used Roboform to generate a password. My standard password is ten characters, mixed case, at least two numeric characters, and includes symbols. The password I generated was along the lines of “34E7&$FcnW”. This is a good password; one that most security people would consider to be “strong”, that is, very hard to discover even using automated password guessing programs.
I filled out the rest of the form, hit return, and was told “Your Password contains invalid characters. Please provide a Password using 8-10 letters and numbers only. Your password must contain one capital letter and one number.” What the hell?!
Really? The strong password I chose needs to be weaker? Did some nerdy engineer decide that was easier for him to program because? Is there something about password security they know that I don’t?
And it’s not like this kind of foolishness is unusual; oh no, far from it. How often have you filled in a form on a Web site, hit submit, and had the service complain about some stupid detail like you entered a four digit value for the year when they had asked for two digits or you put spaces or dashes in your ten-digit phone number and they didn’t want you to do that?
Then, to add insult to insult, the returned form has had various fields wiped out but do they make it clear that this has been done? No. So when you’ve fixed whatever they’ve complained about and resubmitted the form they bounce it back to you yet again! If you’re outside of office hours, you might well be reaching for a drink at this point.
Another example: I helped someone fill in an online Anthem Blue Cross medical insurance application a few days ago. This had to be one of the most complex form filling exercises I have ever attempted and given that I’ve been doing online stuff since the ‘Net was a gleam in Al’s eye, that’s saying something. It was a nightmare.
The forms were ugly, hard to navigate, and the language wasn’t frequently unclear. Given that medical insurance is not something you want to make mistakes with when applying, this was a tense experience for all concerned. The exercise took a long time, it was really frustrating and annoying, and it left all concerned feeling worried and stressed.
I could go on with other examples of these kinds of Web site usability failures but here’s the thing that amazes me: Why aren’t these problems addressed? We’ve all been doing this stuff for over a decade! It doesn’t require an Einstein to see that these usability issues have a huge impact on the visitors to a Web site yet there are hundreds of Web sites that clearly demonstrate that their owners aren’t paying attention.
Take the Anthem Blue Cross site—has no senior executive ever tried to fill in an application? Don’t they have a notion about customer satisfaction and a clue that making the process easy and therefore the customer happy will pay off? Don’t they have user experience designers on staff? Can they not afford to hire an expert to take a look and see what can be improved?
So, if your organization uses online forms and you have any input into the Web site development and maintenance process here’s your homework:
- Do you have a clue about Web design and customer satisfaction?
- Have you tried to fill in the forms on your Web site?
- Did you find the forms easy or hard to fill in? Would you know the difference?
- Be honest: Your Web site sucks because your forms suck. What are you going to do about it?
For any entrepreneurs or developers out there who are struggling to find that great idea that could make them money, help is at hand with The InternetWishlist
, a crowd-sourced repository of ideas for apps and websites that people have been wishing for.
The site went live yesterday but has already received more than a dozen relatively decent ideas including:
- I wish someone would use the foursquare API to build a cab-sharing app to help you split a ride home at the end of the night.
- I want an app that can read me emails and blog posts while I drive.
- I wish there was an app that allowed you to find out cafe crowdedness and seat availability in advance of going.
- I wish there was an app that projected your imagination out into the open.
The site is the brainchild of New York-based community developer Amrit Richmond, who is vetting all submissions to the site and only putting up “the most forward thinking ideas.”
Submissions are made via Twitter, by including the #theiwl hashtag in a tweet. ”Think of it like a suggestion box for the future of technology,” says Richmond.
Some enterprising developers might be put off by the notion of mining a web site for an idea, but others might see this as the way to cater to what app users actually want. Has Richmond prepared for any intellectual property issues between her site and the people who submit ideas, and the entrepreneurs who implement them? I’ve put the question to her and will update when she gets back to me.
———- UPDATE ———-
Richmond has replied to my query about potential IP issues, saying that the mission for the site is to show entrepreneurs, developers and designers the type of apps and websites people would love to use:
All the ideas are sent in via Twitter using the #theiwl hashtag. I did so I could have a public record to link to of who wished for the idea and when they wished for it. I link back to the original tweet on the top right of each idea landing page to give credit to the submitter.
People are sharing ideas for apps and websites that they hope to see built. The format of the submissions is usually “I wish there was an app for _____.” or “I wish someone would make a website for _____.”
I hope that if someone does end up building one of the ideas on the website that they take their own spin on it.