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Eric Ehrmann

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Cloud Computing Powers up Cyberwar Threat

Posted: 11/ 3/10 10:17 AM ET

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Whether you're in Brasilia, Boston or Bangalore you might be paying more for your internet services on the road ahead because Washington has just seeded the global "cloud computing" industry with $20 billion in government contracts but hasn't funded the cybersecurity infrastructure to protect it. Intelligence community leaders in Washington and London are calling for bigger budgets to counter the threat. But free online services prefer to work around absorbing costs in today's tight money economy and since there is no low bid syndrome to deter cyberwar "cloud computing" costs will be passed through to consumers everywhere.

Google has spent a decade promoting the idea that it's cheaper for government and business to store and sell information and services out of a so-called data "cloud" controlled by their computers instead of yours. But adoption has been slow because it involves so much outsourcing and raises privacy and intellectual property issues that evaporate the minute you click on the "I accept" button. But this deal -- twice the amount of Team Obama's Medicaid makeover -- is a big coup for Microsoft and its business culture, which has created less overt turbulence and privacy blowback in prospective markets across Europe, Asia and the Middle East than Google has. Sill hoping to win some of that business Google is taking legal action against the US government, claiming it was excluded.

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison has helped make the "cloud" the computer industry's perennial red herring by calling it "vaporware." Because industry jargon features terms like "upload" and icons that resemble satellites many netizens visualize the "cloud" as a big network of comsats in the sky. But that's where the "cloud" becomes a mirage.

Beyond all the Silicon Valley hype the "cloud" is nothing more than a bunch of server farms operating around the planet connected by lightly armored undersea and underground cables roughly the diameter of a beer can that pose extreme cybersecurity risks, one reason intelligence community leaders in Washington and London are here on the internet calling for bigger budgets.

With more than 90 percent of the world's data traffic handled by cable and industry consultants predicting an increase in that volume due to the mobile boom one would think "cloud computing" promoters would support the stronger cybersecurity environment called for by US Deputy Defense Secretary William F. Lynn III, MI-6 chief Sir John Sawers and former NSA director Mike McConnell. A new British-French rapid deployment force agreement to share resources in response to terrorist threats can help serve as a technical model to put together a similar cyberterror deterrent.

But Google, Microsoft, Bermuda-based Global Crossing and the world's largest private undersea cable operator, Reliance Communications controlled by India's Ambani Group, all fly the transparent flag of the World Economic Forum and have loyalty to no government. These and other companies who see a silver lining in the "cloud" continue to sponge off of cybersecurity programs run by agencies of sovereign nations while their lawyers and lobbyists look for ways they can work around taxes that fund the very organizations who protect them from attacks.

This issue is moving into dangerous new territory because globalist companies who view nations as markets and their citizens as just inventories of human capital are developing stronger relationships with private firms that do operate like a shadow world government and offer cybersecurity, intelligence and sometimes even paramilitary services packaged in a soft and cuddly "social media" wrapper. Key players among these groups surf in and out of government circles in major world capitals and trade on deep insider connections all the way to the top that can help "cloud" promoters achieve their business goals.

Like weather warfare, Pentagon military doctrine matches up with some old Cold War allies and adversaries by carrying cyberwar as an official category of conflict. But while an international treaty attempts to set some limits on just how much nations can damage each other by messing with the atmosphere there is no such treaty covering cyberwar. And high insurance and reinsurance fees needed to cover cybersecurity risks provide "cloud" promoters with a plausible excuse to pass those costs on to commercial users and netizens world wide.

Those risks are likely to increase because Davos democrat, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, supported by a social network of fat cat contributors on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, are not at all enthusiastic about entertaining calls for a cyberwar treaty. The White House and new national security council director Thomas Donilon prefer to use the tactic as a public diplomacy vehicle, and, when needed, as a hard power tool to achieve their notion of virtual digital democracy driven by American-style business-to-business values. Security experts from McAfee security told leaders at the 2010 World Economic Forum that the US, Russia, France, Israel and China are pushing the world toward an electronic arms race. And a senior Microsoft executive suggested that everybody who uses the internet should be tested in order to get an "internet drivers license" that indicates that the holder can drive along the information highway conforming to rules made by big business.

On the surface the "cloud" presents itself as a cost saver and provider of on-demand services. But the explosive growth of computer and internet use among developing nations like Brazil, India and Russia -- markets bigger than the Americas and Europe -- offers Washington-subsidized globalist "cloud" vendors with an even bigger opportunity to use their access and influence to control and monetize data and online social utilities into a fungible quasi-money commodity like oil and sell it through their own, unregulated, OPEC-style cartel. Hoping to cash in on the possible boom, Dell even tried, unsuccessfully, to trademark the term "cloud computing."

Today's subpar economy increases the possibility that companies like Facebook, who offer free online social utilities, will make them fee-based to satisfy their key investors and founders, some of whom have been cashing in morphing into the world of serial startup junkies. Add LinkedIn and You Tube to the mix and everything you need to stay connected will be available and bundled for a "cloud charge" that shows up with the rest of the line items on your monthly cable or telco bill in dollars, rubles, yen, reals or wherever you live.

Considering that the new digital economy requires people to gas up their computers and mobile devices with bandwidth and services just like they gas up their cars users could face disruptive speculative situations like "Peak Cloud" and markets like "cloud futures" and "cloud derivatives," similar to what triggered the current crisis.

The post Cold War Bretton Woods era is giving way to a new, even colder Cryo War paradigm that lacks stable conventions, where national security policy plays out in the Tweetstream, non-transparent communication is marketed as transparency and public relations masquerades as the new journalism.

Aggressions triggered by economic warfare or even al-Qaeda-linked operators could foment cyberattacks perpetrated by those with operational knowledge of quantum cryptography that -- if poorly defensed -- could turn a "cloud" target into toast in a matter of seconds causing political and economic damage, taking investor capital down with it.

China, meanwhile, now operating the world's fastest supercomputer, could use its resources to develop its own "cloud computing" solution, which could appeal to emerging economies. This new paradigm would pit free market cloudsters against those who favor strong state infrastructures designed to help promote income distribution to people struggling for a future and mediate the flow of wealth to the elites at the top of the economic pyramid.

The "cloud" can also be threatened by conventional or nuclear powered submarines operated by or on behalf of nations like North Korea and Iran that can cut armored cable, conduct cyberspying operations and provide rogue governments with a sense of parity and legitimacy in their relations with major world powers. But to do that they would have to get by the naval assets of the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain, whose submarines and surface ships have been protecting, and eavesdropping on undersea cable communications for decades.

It's time for some sunshine to break through the "cloud" and for netizens to develop enough influence to win a seat at the table and play a role in designing the outcomes of real world digital democracy. Because right now consumers are mainly just talking heads in a heavily moderated social media conversation.

When it comes to "cloud computing" and a more open society we may be all be cruising toward 1984 2.0. But those who see the "cloud" as that big sea of green- like the captain on the Beatles Yellow Submarine- need to remember that, unlike Facebook, cybersecurity isn't free and it never will be.