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Editorial: Baited by bots

Bots pose a very real security threat through their use in cyberattacks.
Bots pose a very real security threat through their use in cyberattacks. — 123RF Stock Photo

Wouldn’t it be tragic — and strangely fitting — if we ended up wiping out civilization based on the actions of a team of shadowy weaponized internet “bots”?

Here’s the first paragraph of a New York Times story from Wednesday on a plan to change the rules of U.S. nuclear engagement: “A newly drafted United States nuclear strategy that has been sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of devastating but non-nuclear attacks on American infrastructure, including what current and former government officials described as the most crippling kind of cyberattacks.”

It’s a frightening redrafting of the kind of “extreme circumstances” that could be answered with a nuclear first strike.

There are growing fears that whole hosts of infrastructure services — from international banking to electric power grids to cellphone networks — could be the target of internet cyberwarfare attacks.

There have been financial attacks on American companies like Sony that all signs suggest came from North Korea, and Russian malware attacks on U.S. utility systems, let alone the Russian fake news bot efforts on social media during the U.S. election.

Automated Russian systems have been testing the U.S. political waters with a new spike of cyberattacks, with experts explaining that Russia is beefing up its ability to interfere in the U.S. 2018 midterm elections. Others point out that Russian bots seemed to be heavily involved in an effort to split California into two parts, one predominantly left-wing parts of the coast, the other, predominantly right-wing and inland.

The fingerprints of state-sponsored cyber dirty tricks aren’t always easily tracked, and think about this: if the entire government of the U.S., with all its resources, could be bamboozled about whether or not Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction (the cornerstone of the U.S. launching its attack in the second Iraq War), how easily could it be bamboozled into thinking that a foreign country — rather than opportunistic hackers — was behind a major cyberattack?

We’re already in a world where the president of the United States is clearly in love with a social media engine — Twitter — that is littered with fake bot accounts designed to manufacture and twist public opinion. He loves it because it lets him speak “the truth” to his followers, even though a huge number of those followers have been shown to be bots that aren’t even real people.

We’re tied to the internet for our daily life; it threads through almost everything we do.

Wouldn’t it be tragic, indeed, if the abuse of that singular and oft-wonderful development ended up being the driver of our own destruction?

And what if it just turns out to be a misidentified collection of bored hackers with too much time on their hands?

There’s a movie in there — if anyone is left to write it.

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