How dumb is the government when it comes to technology?

Posted: July 7th, 2010 by Gadget42

Answer: Pretty dumb, and dangerous as well.

by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, ComputerWorld

Back when I was a younger man, I was a Beltway Bandit. What that means is that I worked as a technical contractor for the federal government. In my case, I worked for several years for NASA and NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command). Then, I worked with numerous bright developers, network engineers and system administrators. Unfortunately, we often worked with federal staffers who were often, ah, clueless. Since then, things have only gotten worse. Much worse.

Then, we usually only had to contend with managers who didn’t understand the technology, but were capable of giving us realistic goals. For example, one NASA executive knew that the agency wanted a way to keep track of the current status of all telecom and datacom links to the STS (Space Transportation System, or space shuttle to you), but he didn’t know how we would do it — a combination of C and Datatrieve running on VAX/VMS and AT&T Unix systems, as it turned out — and as long as we delivered the goods, he was happy.

That was when things worked well. Am I glad I’m out of the consultant/contractor game these days.

For starters, a U.S. Senate committee has approved a cybersecurity bill, theProtecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, that appears to say that the president can have the authority to shut down parts of the Internet during a cyberattack.

Actually, Sen. Joe Lieberman has said that what he wants the bill to do is put limits on the powers the president already has to cause “the closing of any facility or stations for wire communication” during war, which had already been given the presidency in the Communications Act of 1934.

OK, so it’s not quite the “Internet kill switch” that earlier reports suggested, but tell me exactly how the president, or anyone else, is going to shut down even a significant part of the Internet on demand? We’ve come a long way since 1934.

Sure, you can wreck parts of the Internet for hours or days at a time with a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack. And you can try to block parts of the Internet, as China does with its so-called Great Firewall of China. But if you know what you’re doing, you can walk around the Great Firewall without too much trouble. Heck, even, Google, while backtracking on its stance toward China’s censorship, was able to jump right over it by directing to its uncensored Hong Kong Web site.

But for practical purposes, there’s no good way you can “turn off” even part of the Internet. It’s silly to even think that there is.

Read the rest at this link.


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