Austin Bay

Public anger at governmental corruption undermines political and economic development. This year, the Pakistani government objected to aid restrictions mandated by Congress designed to thwart corruption. The U.S. State Department mangled the diplomacy, but ensuring aid goes into field projects and not Swiss bank accounts is a must. Attacking corruption is vital to winning the War on Terror, but that, too, is a long-term struggle.

In December, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai chaired a conference on combating corruption in his own government and throughout Afghanistan. AFP quoted Karzai as saying: "I know that corruption in our government and society cannot be eliminated overnight. We cannot even eliminate it in years."

Like I said, as a news story, corruption has legs.

Ten observant minutes on a street corner or a college campus illustrates the pervasiveness of personal digital devices. Human beings lead what pop sociologists have called an increasingly "digitally centered life." It doesn't matter if the device is a mobile phone, laptop computer or digital camera -- they all create and share digital data.

Cyber crime and its brother, cyber warfare, involve stealing data, altering data, denying data,or destroying data. Tapping personal phone conversations or emails is crime enough, but modern "information age" financial institutions, defense ministries and communications companies absolutely depend on the reliable and secure transmission of digital data.

Electrical power grids also rely on computers, and these computer systems may be vulnerable to cyber vandalism. Using a computer virus to knock out a power grid prior to a robbery or even an attack by a terrorist or enemy power also worries cyber defense experts.

The fears are not theoretical. Bonnie and Clyde were small-change chumps compared to cyber bank thieves. On Dec. 22, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI is investigating a "computer security breach" at Citibank. Several "tens of millions of dollars" were filched by hackers who may be "linked to a Russian cyber gang."

Though this is still five or six major steps from taking down a nation's banking system (which interests cyber warriors), the crime itself demonstrates the terrible possibilities.

The digitally centered life and digitally centered economy are in the bull's-eye.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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