The coverage of two recent security attacks that have made it into the headlines have underlined the yawning gulf in knowledge that exists between the UK’s media and the technology that it and the UK’s public use every day of their lives.
This technological ignorance is best demonstrated by the response of the media to the attempt to either bomb a cargo plane or bomb a Chicago synagogue and the Stuxnet virus, which attacked a nuclear power plant.
As news of the cargo plane incident percolated through the media swung into action, eager to paw over every detail it was the top of every bulletin with any tiny piece of new information being deemed enough to give it top billing.
The Stuxnet worm did not achieve anything like the same attention and had to skulk around internet websites for a while before it even received any interest from the national media and that was usually via their technology sections.
In the case of both incidents nothing happened – the cargo plane bombs were stopped because the authorities knew about them, the Stuxnet virus because it did not fully work.
Endless diagrams of printer cartridges have been produced to show us how the bomb was hidden – no such energy has gone into an equivalent explanation of the Stuxnet virus.
Which also illustrates two interesting contrasts.
The authorities, on the back of massive budgets, have shown time and again that they are prepared to deal with traditional terrorist threats, infiltrate their organisations and, as is the case with Al Qaeda, attack perpetrators.
In the case of computer security – despite recent announcements on a change in policy and funding this is not the case.
Perpetrators go largely unsought and unpunished and the world of the internet is to all intents and purposes lawless, with criminals allowed to compromise computers, steal personal and commercial information, damage equipment and wreak havoc at will.
That this could mean that a nuclear power station could have been compromised with the result that a huge number of people could have been killed or maimed appears unimportant.
The traditional media understands bombs, they were after all invented by the Chinese probably around the 10th century so they have the time to appreciate their effects.
That the UK’s media do not as yet appreciate the terrifying potential of the internet to wreak havoc on an even greater scale is shown nearly everyday in the way that it responds to technology stories.
As a result of this ignorance the UK’s response itself is blunted, MPs who normally follow the media’s lead are loathe to be associated with technology due to fear of being seen as tools for the Fear Uncertainty and Doubt sales tactics so long used by technology companies.
The result is that the opportunity to educate and inform the public is lost time and again.
Detailed diagrams showing a bomb’s route onto a cargo plane are embarked on with glee, similar attempts to demonstrate our national vulnerability to cyber attack are just as readily abandoned with the claim made that the public will be bored and won’t understand.
Perhaps it is not the public which is bored and does not understand?