Climate Changers

A story that was posted on our Web site two weeks ago about China developing cyberwarfare first-strike capabilities created quite a stir, and a couple of readers were curious about my take on the development. One said he would be interested in my perspective, given my experience in China. The other was more blunt. Just what we needed, he wrote. Is Don Tennant now going to tell us again that China is, of course, our friend?

I suppose the perception in some quarters that Im a China apologist prompted the question. It was posted in the Comments section under the story, and I responded with a little levity: I believe it was Richard Pryor who said it best. I dont remember the precise quote, but it was something like, We should be friends with a billion of anything.

But lets get serious. The story referred to a Department of Defense report warning that the Peoples Liberation Army has established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks. Moreover, the report said that the PLA is incorporating the capability into its exercises, primarily in first strikes.

My take? The naiveté of anyone who is surprised by this is perplexing. And the parochialism of anyone who singles out one particular country as a villain for doing it is maddening.

Consider this statement from a Gartner report dated May 14, 2007: Based on public domain information, the following nations are believed to possess or be developing defensive or offensive cyberwarfare capabilities: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Should we presume that the good guys on the list are only developing defensive capabilities, and that its just the bad guys who are going the offensive route? Dont kid yourself. Theres not a country on that list that isnt convinced that the best defense is good offense.

So lets recognize the threat for what it is: just one front in a stormy international political climate that becomes even more unsettled when the cold air of mistrust meets the colder air of myopia.

The endlessly debated question has to do with the best way to approach the storm. Do we insulate ourselves from it, or do we once and for all attempt the seemingly impossible task of changing the climate? And if we opt for the latter course, to whom do we look to change it? Who among us are the climate changers?

If you had attended the Computerworld Honors Program awards ceremony in Washington last week, you might well have concluded that one of them is John Thompson, the CEO of Symantec. Thompson, who was at the event to receive the 2007 Morgan Stanley Leadership Award for Global Commerce, accepted the honor with characteristic humility, deflecting the praise to the people who work for him.

But in an oral history interview thats now part of the Honors Programs international archives, Thompson provided a glimpse of the type of leadership that the climate change will require.

Were on a course where its inevitable that information will flow freely around the world, even in countries like China, where they would like to control where people go and what people see, he said. Information sharing will be at the core of creating bigger, broader democracies around the world.

Its also at the core of what builds friendships between nations. Is China our friend? If its not, well need as many people like John Thompson as we can get to change that.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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