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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

iDefense rants pay no rents

George C. Smith, Ph.D., Editor-at-large
Monday, 3 September 2001

LAST WEEK, The Post-Newsweek Business Information wire ran a brief on the bankruptcy filing of iDefense, a smallish northern Virginia computer security firm famous for relentlessly pimping the coming of the cyber-terror Eschaton.

"Hence rotten thing!"

-- Shakespeare, "Coriolanus"

"In a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, the company listed assets and liabilities between approximately $1 million and $10 million, each," said the Post-Newsweek item. One- to two-hundred creditors were said to be waiting at the door, with one of the largest being Blue Vector of New York at $1.4 million. Another creditor was said to be law firm McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe LLP, appointed by iDefense as corporate counsel in 1999, according to a website-published company history.

Characteristics of the wild iBogeyman

Since its inception in 1998, iDefense and company founder James Adams never knew a cyber-war they didn't like. Under Adams' leadership, the company strove to place itself in the media as the leader among those using employing fear of "electronic Pearl Harbors" as a sales tool. Whether foreign hackers planning overthrow under the cover of Y2K collapse, or viruses and booby-traps being pitilessly seeded into corporate and military systems in a virtual war said to be worse than a good old-fashioned carpet-bombing, or the Chinee on the cyber-attack, Adams or his miscellaneous corporate servants could always be counted upon to ring the dinner bell in the media for a plethora of always said to be imminent national electronic crucifixions.

One of the firm's best examples of the psychology of the nuisance salesman run amok was illustrated by an ad it mounted on its website as a promotional item. Said to have been placed in the New York Times in 2000, it gloated

"We Warned You"
after a series of denial-of-service attacks against deep-pockets websites made national news.

However, the strategy of berating corporate America into purchasing consulting services is hardly unique in the computer security industry and so it was also with iDefense's product, iAlert, an alleged inside "intelligence" and countermeasures package addressing threats to the nation's computerized infrastructure. While iDefense press releases numbingly bragged of excellence and novelty, the harsh business fact was that in computer security-land it faced extremely harsh competition from other firms offering identical services.

In addition, a great deal of what the company offered — strategic warnings on alleged threats to the networks, advice on plugging security holes and the whereabouts of appropriate software patches — was humdrum, already freely available in the public domain from multiple competing sources.

On the other hand, while iDefense intelligence product may have been easily done without, the mainstream media has always found James Adams to be quite precious. Whenever a cyber-terror article needs propping up, Adams is and will most certainly remain one of the media's top "go to" guys. Always ready with variegated stories of poisonous salamanders under every electronic rock while alluding to "inside" intel that no one else possesses on the subject, Adams fills needs of journalists bent on cranking out copy liberally seasoned with humbugs.

AN ADAMS APPEARANCE in the news is an excellent indicator that the reader will receive an editorial pastiche of grand mythologizing honed for the consumption of corporate ninnies in high management or the paranoid right within DoD and the intelligence agencies. If the Pentagon needed a new enemy after the Cold War, it can be said with certitude that James Adams has always done his absolute best to furnish one via the power of the spoken, printed and broadcast word, with the best enemy of all being ... everyone and anyone armed with the new weapon of mass destruction: the laptop PC.

"Y2K will illustrate what an attack could do... Anybody who says after January 1, 2000 that this [threat of cyber attack] is all just made up I think is an idiot."

-- iDefense founder James Adams

In 1998, Adams first came to the attention of Vmyths as another in a long line of allegedly expert sources gaffed by the Gulf War printer virus hoax. In his then-newly published book, "The Next World War," Adams detailed an infatuation with the fantastic bibble-babble of information warfare and its boosters.

In the book, as an example of the computer virus as weapon, he recirculated the hoary tale of the Gulf War printer virus, an April Fool's joke originally published in InfoWorld magazine and subsequently spackled over as a true story in U.S. News and World Report's book on the Gulf War, "Triumph Without Victory."

Another information warfare legend oversold by Adams and iDefense is "Eligible Receiver," the Pentagon's tip-top classified wargame that was said to have proved the country could be totally defeated — the national power grid raped, its 911 system laid waste, its Pacific Fleet given erectile dysfunction — by the usual tiresome array of secret but, we can assure you, omnipotent geeks armed with that new weapon of mass destruction: the laptop PC. (Is there an echo in here?) "I can assure you, tens of thousands of people would have died," said Adams in his standard hyperbolic manner for a news piece on hackers and the grand wizards of Eligible Receiver for PBS.

Another favorite Adams monkey-man was Moonlight Maze, the undying national security fireside tale of the unknown but certainly quite vast troves of American cyber-treasure stolen by maybe the Russians or, possibly, the Chinee. (Indeed, Adams flogged it again in a spring 2001 issue of Foreign Affairs.)

A telephone call to iDefense on Thursday confirmed the wire news on bankruptcy. The voice on the end of the line assured Vmyths the company still had great faith in its current CEO, Brian Kelly, who took over Adams' position in January. In a press release from that time, Adams was said to have still been on-board as "visionary."

A company press release on 27 August beamishly stated: "iDefense, Inc., the leading global provider of security intelligence services [emphasis added], and RiskWatch, the world's leading risk management software company, today announced the launch of a strategic alliance and development partnership."

Humorous fellows, if you spend word for word with us, we shall make your wit bankrupt...

Continued in part 2...