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WashPost: Understanding Cyberspace is Key to Defending Against Digital Attacks

Author: Robert O'Harrow Jr.
June 2, 2012

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Government and business leaders in the United States and around the world are rushing to build better defenses -- and to prepare for the coming battles in the digital universe, writes Robert O'Harrow Jr. at the Washington Post. To succeed, they must understand one of the most complex, man-made environments on Earth: cyberspace.

Charlie Miller prepared his cyberattack in a bedroom office at his Midwestern suburban home. Brilliant and boyish-looking, Miller has a PhD in math from the University of Notre Dame and spent five years at the National Security Agency, where he secretly hacked into foreign computer systems for the U.S. government. Now, he was turning his attention to the Apple iPhone.

At just 5 ounces and 4 1/2 inches long, the iPhone is an elegant computing powerhouse. Its microscopic transistors and millions of lines of code enable owners to make calls, send e-mail, take photos, listen to music, play games and conduct business, almost simultaneously. Nearly 200 million iPhones have been sold around the world.

The idea of a former cyberwarrior using his talents to hack a wildly popular consumer device might seem like a lark. But his campaign, aimed at winning a little-known hacker contest last year, points to a paradox of our digital age. The same code that unleashed a communications revolution has also created profound vulnerabilities for societies that depend on code for national security and economic survival.

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