Saturday, March 20, 2010

China, Paper on How to Bring Down USA Power Grid: All a Big Misunderstanding?

It'd be nice if what's happening in China is all just a big misunderstanding. Something that a little chat over tea could straighten out.

That would be nice.

I'm old enough to remember the 'good old days' of the sixties, when idealistic kids kept hearing messages like this oldie:
"...Nothing to kill or die for.
And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people.
Living life in peace...
"Imagine" (1971)

I'm not terribly nostalgic about the sixties - or the fifties. Or any period I've experienced. My memory's too good. They've all had their pleasant and unpleasant aspects, just like today.

Which brings me to a news item involving China. Bear in mind, this is in today's New York Times: Hardly a rabble-rousing ultra-conservative right wing hate monger like [fill in your choice of the newer crop of Information Age news services].
"Paper in China Sets Off Alarms in U.S."
The New York Times (March 20, 2010)

"It came as a surprise this month to Wang Jianwei, a graduate engineering student in Liaoning, China, that he had been described as a potential cyberwarrior before the United States Congress.

"Larry M. Wortzel, a military strategist and China specialist, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 10 that it should be concerned because 'Chinese researchers at the Institute of Systems Engineering of Dalian University of Technology published a paper on how to attack a small U.S. power grid sub-network in a way that would cause a cascading failure of the entire U.S.'

"When reached by telephone, Mr. Wang said he and his professor had indeed published 'Cascade-Based Attack Vulnerability on the U.S. Power Grid' in an international journal called Safety Science last spring. But Mr. Wang said he had simply been trying to find ways to enhance the stability of power grids by exploring potential vulnerabilities.

" 'We usually say "attack" so you can see what would happen,' he said. 'My emphasis is on how you can protect this. My goal is to find a solution to make the network safer and better protected.' And independent American scientists who read his paper said it was true: Mr. Wang's work was a conventional technical exercise that in no way could be used to take down a power grid.

"The difference between Mr. Wang's explanation and Mr. Wortzel's conclusion is of more than academic interest. It shows that in an atmosphere already charged with hostility between the United States and China over cybersecurity issues, including large-scale attacks on computer networks, even a misunderstanding has the potential to escalate tension and set off an overreaction...."

"...In an interview last week about the Wang paper and his testimony, Mr. Wortzel said that the intention of these particular researchers almost did not matter.

" 'My point is that now that vulnerability is out there all over China for anybody to take advantage of,' he said.

"But specialists in the field of network science, which explores the stability of networks like power grids and the Internet, said that was not the case.

" 'Neither the authors of this article, nor any other prior article, has had information on the identity of the power grid components represented as nodes of the network,' Reka Albert, a University of Pennsylvania physicist who has conducted similar studies, said in an e-mail interview. 'Thus no practical scenarios of an attack on the real power grid can be derived from such work.'

"The issue of Mr. Wang's paper aside, experts in computer security say there are genuine reasons for American officials to be wary of China, and they generally tend to dismiss disclaimers by China that it has neither the expertise nor the intention to carry out the kind of attacks that bombard American government and computer systems by the thousands every week...."
I think The New York Times deserves credit for standing by its convictions. Repeating part of one of those (too?) long excerpts:
"...It shows that in an atmosphere already charged with hostility between the United States and China over cybersecurity issues, including large-scale attacks on computer networks, even a misunderstanding has the potential to escalate tension and set off an overreaction...."
(The New York Times) [emphasis mine]
There's nothing in that sentence that's inaccurate. There is "hostility between the United States and China", and it's quite true that "a misunderstanding has the potential to escalate tension and set off an overreaction."

But note the 'it takes two to tussle' point of view. If there is "hostility between the United States and China", there can't be one side causing the hostility - unless it's America. And in this case, I don't think even The New York Times could publish that and be taken seriously.

And then there's that wonderful phrase about "misunderstanding". In context, it's fairly easy to imagine that intolerant, racist, xenophobic America is likely to misunderstand the nice people who benevolently see to the welfare of the masses in China.

Or, not. I can't see into the minds of the NYT news editors, and so can't tell for sure what they 'really' meant.

This may mark me as a hide-bound intolerant 'poor, uneducated and easily led' radical right-wing conservative extremist: but on the whole I'd rather live in America, than in China. This is a country people are trying to break into. ("A Reporter Escapes the Taliban, Monks Escape China" (June 20, 2009))

Other related posts:And click "China" in this blog's label cloud.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.