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From Tunisia to Wikileaks to the Stuxnet worm, a cascade of cyberevents

Digital advances such as the Internet are pushing events ever faster, for good or ill. The world needs to get ahead of this train to determine its path.

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The number of major “cyberevents,” to use a new term, seems to be accelerating with the speed of a cyclotron. Consider just these recent few:

1. The popularity of Facebook and Twitter in Tunisia helped rally the people in that Arab country this month to overthrow a police state – one of many revolutions driven by the Internet’s rapid connectivity, including social media.

2. With a small memory card, a low-level soldier was allegedly able to download classified US documents and give them to the website WikiLeaks, exposing embarrassing diplomatic secrets.

3. A computer worm known as Stuxnet has reportedly destroyed many Iranian centrifuges enriching uranium. The cyber-attack may have delayed that country’s nuclear ambition by years.

The world can expect more such digital tipping points in the future. Cyberevents will be capable of altering the course of history, some for good, some for ill. They may often be unseen, often without anyone taking credit, often the tool of the weak against the strong.

They can be driven by governments, human rights groups, criminal cartels, or anyone on top of the latest software advances. These events also come with their own terms of art: hactivists, Internet off-switch, malware, logic bombs, botnets, zero-day exploits, and so on.

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