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|Cyberwars, originally published in French in 1995 as Guerres
dans le cyberespace, looks at information warfare in a variety of
contexts. While national security concerns dominate the book, author Jean
Guisnel taps the Electronic Frontier Foundation as "the first
cyberwarriors". He describes John Perry Barlowe and Mitch Kapor's efforts to
counteract the well-intentioned but rights-threatening police activities in
the wake of the "hacker scare" brought on by the failure of sections of
AT&T's network in January 1990. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, along
with Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, engaged the US
government in a legal and policy battle that continues to this day.
Students of Internet history, such as it is, or individuals who have used the Net since the late 1980s, will doubtlessly be familiar with most (if not all) of the issues raised in the first five chapters of Cyberwars. Guisnel covers the familiar ground of Phil Zimmerman's Pretty Good Privacy cryptography software, star hackers like Kevin Mitnick, the Communications Decency Act, and National Security Agency monitoring practices, though often from a French perspective that adds a welcome element to the debate. For instance, the author describes how one French hacker was recruited by the DGSE (equivalent to the NSA in the US) and, when put in front of television cameras for a panel discussion, fed his responses by intelligence service handlers.
For me, the rubber met the road in Chapter 8, "Internet and Espionomics". Here Guisnel examines the "open source intelligence" issue, championed in recent years by Robert David Steele. Steele, a former CIA case officer and principal of Oakton, VA, company Open Source Solutions, argues that most of what any intelligence professional needs can be found in the open literature. Steele is probably correct, but the problem is sorting through the gigabytes of open source articles (many of which are repeats of original reports) to find the precious nuggets of information. Guisnel describes Topic (used, and sold, by the CIA), Tipster (from the Department of Defense), and Taiga (from the computer wing of French mega-firm Thomson SA), among other systems. Each of these programs works like a Web search engine to comb through a database and present the most relevant articles at the top of the listing.
The problem with standard keyword searches is that they can result in enormous numbers of false positives or false negatives. For instance, the word "coordinate" can be both a noun and verb, so searching by keyword would turn up seemingly innumerable instances of the wrong usage. The opposite problem could occur in a search for baseball articles. If the writer fancies himself a 1940s-style wordsmith, the word "baseball" might never appear in the article.
To get around these difficulties, indexers use natural language processing tools to mark each word by part of speech (syntactic marking) and, in some cases, by subject area (semantic marking). Syntactic analysis is quick and very accurate, but semantic analysis is often slow and inexact unless the documents have been pre-sorted into broad categories. Researchers can also use "link analysis" tools to look for associations among authors and people in the news. In the online intelligence world, it seems you are defined by the company you keep.
The remainder of Cyberwars goes into government-sponsored economic intelligence, comparing the French and American approaches and raising interesting allegations about how the US government might have intervened to give American companies a foothold over their French counterparts in several contract negotiations around the globe. While acknowledging that French operatives had been caught breaking into US firms, Guisnel indicates that French officials found the American operations "surprising" given the American reluctance for government to meddle overmuch in business affairs.
While Cyberwars has an extremely informative second half, much of what Guisnel wrote about in 1995 has been covered extensively in the popular media since then. The updated material, such as coverage of the Communications Decency Act struggle, helps offset the problem, but the book is hampered by some typos and missed capitalizations (department of state, rather than Department of State, for instance) that jerk the reader's attention away from the subject at hand. All in all, though, Cyberwars is an enjoyable read that, while perhaps not for the well-read security professional, is certainly worth examining for its fresh perspective and coverage of technologies not often discussed in the popular literature.
Curtis D. Frye (email@example.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA, and is the author of Privacy-Enhanced Business, from Quorum Books.