Some dissembling required

Here’s what I learned this week: People in the United States are waging a war of disinformation to thwart terrorists. They’re writing technical articles about things that won’t work and posting them on unsecured computers in an effort to lure spies, would-be bombers and other anarchists.

The computers are called honeypots. The instructions on sensitive topics act as bait to lure would-be terrorists into hacking the computers and stealing bogus information, as one tech observer who sells the servers puts it.

Honeypot farmsWhile this seems alarming to most of us it’s apparently nothing new to the tech community. The term honeypot may have evolved from the sexual entrapment practiced by spy agencies during World War II. The computers apparently were first used to counter attacks by monitoring the behavior of hackers once they obtain access to a system. This comes in handy when you’re trying to stay one step ahead of people who code computer viruses and other malware.

Honeypots make useful tools for businesses and governments looking to plug vulnerabilities in their networks, or spread disinformation.

A search of Slashdot.com turns up dozens of articles about honeypots, including one that sets the tone for this type of counterterrorism: “Honeypots should have no production value, and hence should not see any legitimate traffic or activity. Whatever they capture is therefore malicious or unauthorized.”

Or as eweek.com puts it, “Its sole purpose is to detect and track any interactions with it, since any such interactions can be assumed to be a probe, scan or attack.”

As a former journalist I dislike disinformation. But as someone who travels on business, I like the idea of landing in one piece. Uncomfortable but probably safe. Aside from the erosion of privacy and freedom, that balancing act could define modern life.

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