A Nebulous Electronic Doom Always Looming Over U.S. Computer Networks


Electronic Pearl Harbor (EPH)

Source: Northern Illinois University

Electronic Pearl Harbor (or "EPH"): a bromide popularized by Alvin Toffler-types, ex-Cold War generals, assorted corporate windbags and hack journalists, to name a few. EPH is meant to signify a nebulous electronic doom always looming over U.S. computer networks. In the real world, it’s a cue for the phrase "Watch your wallet!" since those wielding it are usually doing so in an attempt to convince taxpayers or consumers to fund ill-defined and/or top secret projects said to be aimed at protecting us from it. It has been seen thousands of times since its first sighting in 1993.
--from the Crypt Newsletter "Joseph K"
Guide to Tech Terminology

"Electronic Pearl Harbor" and variations on it, Crypt Newsletter has noticed, are now some of the most overused buzz-phrases in the topic of computer security and information warfare. Using Internet search engines, it is possible to quickly find over 500 citations for the phrase in on-line news archives, military research papers and press releases.

Paradoxically, overuse of the phrase has had quite the opposite effect desired by those who unwittingly wield it.

One can easily imagine p.r. handlers coaching our leaders, generals and corporate salesmen to not forget to say "electronic Pearl Harbor" at least one time just before giving a speech or interview. Since it is a gold-plated cliche, anyone with more sense than it takes to pour piss from a boot can use it as an infallible detector of Chicken Little-like cyber-bull.

Paraphrased: Anyone still caught uttering "electronic Pearl Harbor" in 1999 is either an ex-Cold Warrior trying to drum up anti-terrorism funding through the clever use of propaganda, completely out of it, or a used-car salesman/white-collar crook of some type.

Here then, Crypt News presents for your amusement, a selection of the unclothed emperors speaking of "electronic Pearl Harbor."

Note: To underline how rich in history the cliche has become, Crypt Newsletter recently began updating this list after skipping much of 1998. Congressmen, Pentagon officials and hack journalists are those most prone to deploying "electronic Pearl Harbor" ad nauseum. And at this juncture, Crypt Newsletter receives about 2-3 articles a week from the big mainstream press featuring cites on the potential for "electronic Pearl Harbor." Other common players, many of which are listed in this archive, constitute an assortment of aggressive shills pimping consulting services or spot hardware and software solutions aimed at avoiding "electronic Pearl Harbor."

These articles, all of which, obviously, are not included in this page, are distinguished by their mind-numbing repetition and similarity in tone.

The same names tend to appear over and over, always uttering exactly the same menacing declarations.

And -- again and again -- the same clueless media organizations recycle the same clutch of quotes and cliches, uncomprehending or indifferent to the fact that they aren’t actually producing anything that is real news.

Other characteristics of "electronic Pearl Harbor" stories are:

1. Obsession with hypotheses upon what might happen -- not what has happened.

2. Rafts of generally insignificant computer security incidents accumulated as anecdotal evidence and delivered in out-of-context or exaggerated manner pointing to the insinuation that something awful is about to happen -- today, tomorrow, a year from now, two years from now . . . always in the not easily glimpsed future.

3. Abuse of anonymous sourcing and slavish devotion to secrecy. All EPH stories usually contain a number of "anonymoids" -- from the Pentagon, the White House, Congressional staff, computer security firms, intelligence agencies, think tanks or unspecified consulting firms. Frequently the anonymoid will allude to even more secret and terrible things which cannot be mentioned in print or the Republic will crumble.

4. Paranoid gossip -- the equivalent of which is offered up as still further proof the nation is in electronic danger. Russia, China, France, India, Israel . . . almost any country not-USA can be portrayed as taking electronic aim at the American way of life. Programmers of foreign decent or mixed American-foreign decent are tarred as potential cybersaboteurs in a kind of modern techno-McCarthyism. Teenagers are transformed into electronic bogeymen with more power at their fingertips than the Strategic Command. The allegations tend to be delivered by anonymous sources or "experts" not required to provide substantive examples backing up the gossip for the print journalists acting as their stenographers.

5. The standard of proof becomes plastic. If your definition of evidentiary proof is restricted to that which is demonstrated by a reproducible public testing process, EPH stories become very confusing. In EPH news, the standard of "proof" is radically different, equivalent to a fantastic but undemonstrated (or when ’demonstrated,’ always secret) claim, often passed along by "hackers" looking for publicity, employees of the Pentagon, the National Security Council or related institutions.

This phenomenon has unfolded over six years since the initial prediction of "electronic Pearl Harbor" and national death by keyboard first reared its head.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, as the nation approaches the New Year 2000, the production of stories about a variety of "electronic Pearl Harbor" catastrophes -- hackers attacking under cover of Y2K problems; computer viruses timed to activate on, near or after the rollover; secret cyberwars with names like "Moonlight Maze" and "Eligible Receiver" and; fifth column saboteur programmers working in league with foreign powers -- has also accelerated.

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