Kerry doesn't know what a nuclear bomb can do


Tracking stupid things congressmen say is usually a job we leave to Politico. Still, one gem that dropped from the lips of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state requires some highlighting.

Network penetrations, Kerry said, are the 21st century equivalent of nuclear weapons.

Hyperbole on all things cyber isn't new; I've noted in the past that politicians have warned since the mid-1990s about a "cyber Pearl Harbor."

But at least the users of that tired analogy point to an event that depended on ordinary conventional weapons – a ruthless attack, yes, but one dependent on the kind of arsenal you could today buy at your local gun shop. (Buy two A6M Zero planes for the price of one!)

But, whoa, now a network penetration is like a nuclear bomb?

"Jjje met hundreds and hundreds who were fleeing, and every one of them seemed to be hurt in some way. The eyebrows of some were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pafti, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing. On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos."

That's what a nuclear bomb does. (The excerpt is from Hiroshima by John Hersey.) Network penetrations, at their worst, are incidents of espionage. Even should one day a hostile foreign power use network connectivity to shut down the electrical grid or burst a dam or perpetuate another attack on our critical infrastructure, that attack will be highly unlikely to come close to the destructive power of even that small bomb dropped onto Japan.

You know what the nuclear weapons of the 21st century are? Nuclear weapons.

Were Kerry still just another long-winded member of the Senate, it wouldn't matter too much that he amped up the rhetoric in the cyber discussion. But the man will likely be our next secretary of state, and words matter when you're a diplomat. Let's hope his hyperbole is restricted to areas of cyber – and that he learns something quickly enough about cyber that he backs off of making unnecessarily inflammatory comments like that one. - Dave