Debunking IT myths

Published 3 March 2009

As IT spreads, so do IT myths and legends; two experts debunk some of the more popular myths

As information technology spreads, so do IT myths and legends. Two experts, Iain Thomson and Shaun Nichols, respond to some of the PC myths out there. We chose two myths which relate to security — and homeland security.

Myth: Hackers could bring about Third World War

Iain Thomson: The 1983 film “War Games” did a lot of good things — sparking my interest in computers and Ally Sheedy for one thing — but I could kick the scriptwriter sometimes for the fears that the film invoked. The film was about as useful for home computer users as “The Birth of a Nation” was for racial harmony.

The chances of anyone being able to use a standard modem to break into missile command and launch missiles, or even to access the supercomputers that control them, are almost exactly zero, particularly considering the technology of the day. After “War Games” came out anxious parents were reportedly ripping computers away from their precious little snowflakes in case of accidental Armageddon.

The command and control systems used by the military are some of the most locked down computer networks on the planet. The military is paranoid enough to take any kind of networking extremely seriously (something we should be grateful for) and hackers stand no chance.

Actually the chances of accidental nuclear war were very high. In September 1983 civilization nearly went up in smoke after a faulty Soviet satellite detected multiple missile launches from the United States. Only the quick thinking of the controller, Colonel Stanislav Petrov, saved the day, which is why I raise a glass of vodka to him every September 25th (HS Daily Wire editor’s note: If you want to lose sleep retroactively over how close the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear war, and over nuclear weapons accidents, just read the somewhat sensational We Almost Lost Detroit by John Fuller, and the much more academic and sober — and, hence, much scarier — The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons by Stanford’s Scott Sagan).

Things were no better on the American side. When nuclear warhead were originally delivered to the U.S. military that needed an eight digit arming code to be activated, the kind of thing that comes in handy red flashing numerals in James Bond films. What was the code used? 00000000. Words fail me.

Shaun Nichols: In the 80s and 90s there was a bit of romance for the persona