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Cyber Siege - Don't drop your Y2K worries

War games - Stopping the hack and grab

By MICHAEL PLATT-- Calgary Sun March 20, 2000

Chewed fingernails, frazzled nerves and then a worldwide sigh of relief -- on the surface, the Y2K experience amounted to mass worry and little else. Dig a little deeper, though, and it becomes obvious the world's first global computer crisis had a far greater effect than fattening the wallets of a few cyber-repairmen.

Y2K forced us to finally acknowledge our total dependence on the microchip.

"The pervasiveness of computer technology was finally understood," said Judith Umbach, who led the city of Calgary's computer team on its $8-million quest to squash the millennium bug.

"The problem of where computers were working and could fail became clear, and it was not just the computer on your desk or the mainframe," she said.

"Computers are used across the board in everything we do, and this was a real-life illustration of that."

In Calgary alone, as the final weeks of 1999 ticked down, 46% of people said they expected the failure of most computers to recognize the year 2000 would bring some form of disaster on Jan. 1.

Some assumed it would be something as simple as a traffic light failure, while others worried nuclear missiles might accidentally launch from ill-prepared Russia.

Thanks in part to the billions spent fixing the global glitch, nothing much happened, but for those in the know, the sweaty brow still remains. For them, Y2K proved the world would stop without computers.

Planes would fall from the sky; banks would lose their records; stock markets would crash; lights would turn off. The dark ages would be back with a vengeance.

And for those in the know, all of these scenarios are still frighteningly possible, thanks to the computer criminal known as the hacker.

Once the sole worry of those rare corporations and people using computers as a key part of their business, the high-tech outlaw capable of invading cyberspace to steal or vandalize is fast becoming a universal anxiety.

In January 1999, hackers broke into the Calgary Public Library computer system, leaving an Irish flag and a pro-IRA message in place of the regular screen.

"It was up for about six minutes before we managed to get rid of it," said Grant Kaiser, head of communications for the city's libraries.

The library hack is now enshrined with similar online stunts on pro-hacker websites across the globe, and at least one Calgary company has learned a valuable lesson.

"We're the second-largest system in Canada -- we rely on our computers and can't function without them. Trying to keep track of 11.5 million items on cards would just be too much to handle," said Kaiser.

And with every day that passes, more and more people find their lives are tied up in silicone -- in Canada, for example, computer banking is exploding, with an extra 712 people expected to sign up every day this year.

"We currently have 2.6 million people using computer banking services," said Jennifer Fisk, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Banking Association.

Besides keeping our lights burning, computers are now an integral part of the global economy, and with cyber-money flowing like a virtual river, the thieves are drooling on the shore.

-- (, March 20, 2000

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