Overboard on fear and loathing

I always enjoy Robert J. Samuelson’s commentary pieces, but his July 3 article, “Beware the Internet and the danger of cyberattacks,” is a rare miss for an otherwise insightful journalist.

In general, decrying the progress of new technology makes Samuelson sound like the old man who yells at kids to “keep off my lawn!” Samuelson gives short shrift to the democratization of information that the Internet has enabled. Furthermore, he seems to confuse the Internet with the World Wide Web.

The Web is the most familiar way that most people use the Internet. It consists of websites and their accompanying media. E-mail, instant messaging and some file-transfer protocols use the Internet, but they are not part of the World Wide Web.

There may be a legitimate argument to be made that YouTube and Facebook have been a wash for society — productivity gains from professional networking and educational videos being wiped out by productivity losses from mindless status updates and videos of cute kittens. But there is no evidence for the argument that we would all be better off without Internet-enabled financial transactions or electronic medical records.

Samuelson’s warnings against cyberattacks are also completely oversold. He mentions the Stuxnet virus, but fails to inform us that in terms of viruses, there is a trade-off between effectiveness and applicability. Stuxnet caused real, physical damage because it was an extremely specialized virus that could only attack a specific piece of software (industrial control software for a particular kind of centrifuge). The more damage you want the virus to cause, the more specialized it must be, thereby narrowing the group of susceptible targets.

Conversely viruses that can infect a wide range of systems will necessarily lack the specialization needed to cause great damage to any particular system.

joseph jaworski
taragi, kumamoto

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.