Terrorism Risks of Google Earth

Sometimes I wonder about "security experts." Here's one who thinks Google Earth is a terrorism risk because it allows people to learn the GPS coordinates of soccer stadiums. (English blog entry on the topic here.)

Basically, Klaus Dieter Matschke is worried because Google Earth provides the location of buildings within 20 meters, whereas before coordinates had an error range of one kilometer. He's worried that this information will provide terrorists with the exact target coordinates for missile attacks.

I have no idea how anyone could print this drivel. Anyone can attend a football game with a GPS receiver in his pocket and get the coordinates down to one meter. Or buy a map.

Google Earth is not the problem; the problem is the availability of short-range missiles on the black market.

Posted on April 11, 2006 at 6:52 AM • 79 Comments

Comments

JuergenApril 11, 2006 7:22 AM

You don't even need a GPS receiver. Accurate maps with UTM grid are available in any bookstore :-)

t3knomanserApril 11, 2006 8:01 AM

Actually, you don't even need a short range missle. Just smuggle in the explosive. The goal isn't body count, it's "terror", so even if you can't carry in as much payload as you can shoot in via missle- I can't believe I'm even discussing this. I feel like I'm planning Die Hard 5.

Mike SherwoodApril 11, 2006 8:02 AM

As I'm sure you're aware, "security experts" aren't paid too poorly. There's a big market for people who can make up hypothetical situations to create fear and sell made up reports on how to deal with the problem. It's a bull market in security fiction.

The only way to secure soccer stadiums would be to constantly move them around and have each individual attend the game in a different location. The largest threat to soccer stadiums to date is the fans rioting. Isolating everyone would make it easier to break up single participant riots.

Large numbers of people in a static location are an easy and obvious potential target for people who want to inflict a large number of civilian casualties. Everyone's a potential target if you're willing to focus on statistically irrelevant fractions of a percent.

I'm curious how much those missiles cost on the black market. That's the biggest barrier to entry for them to become a significant threat. For our military, each one is pretty expensive. If I recall correctly, there was a guy in Australia who was trying to make his own cruise missile for under $5k. The cost was just materials, not design or labor. The government shut him down, but I think the idea is quite viable. When you don't need sophisticated hardware to avoid military countermeasures, it's basically a radio controlled aircraft.

A motivated attacker can acquire or create a means to deliver a payload to a target. Cars are the traditional delivery vehicle because they're cheap, plentiful, and carry a substantial payload. Missiles are expensive, hard to get, and size of the payload is proportional to cost.

Ed T.April 11, 2006 8:13 AM

"The largest threat to soccer stadiums to date is the fans rioting."

Yeah, but it doesn't make a good enough threat to help sell 'security consulting services' -- besides, it would make a lousy movie.

~EdT.

Clive RobinsonApril 11, 2006 8:13 AM

@Mike Sherwood

"it's basically a radio controlled aircraft"

You did not quite follow through with your thought. A small light plane would not be that dificult to convert to a "remote controled" one using an onboard PC and GPS system all of which is available to people who sail boats single handedly...

Hey add this one to the "Movie Plot" List

Ed T.April 11, 2006 8:17 AM

"...the problem is the availability of short-range missiles on the black market."

Actually. Bruce, IMHO the problem is the fact that there are folks who feel that killing others in the name of whatever cause they espouse is condoned by whatever deity (or lack thereof) they choose to worship (or not), and there are other folks who are willing to both buy and sell this type of drivel (the 'movie plot threat' scenarios like this one.)

~EdT.

David in ChicagoApril 11, 2006 8:19 AM

Um...don't most terrorists use people (possibly driving trucks) to conduct attacks? Moreover, how helpful are the GPS coordinates to short-range missiles? Aren't they usually line-of-sight?

Bruce SchneierApril 11, 2006 8:19 AM

"Actually. Bruce, IMHO the problem is the fact that there are folks who feel that killing others in the name of whatever cause they espouse is condoned by whatever deity (or lack thereof) they choose to worship (or not)..."

That's certainly true. But I don't think we can possibly make those people dissppear. We can certainly make them fewer in number, but we can't eliminate them. The next best thing is to render them less effective.

Bruce SchneierApril 11, 2006 8:21 AM

"As I'm sure you're aware, 'security experts' aren't paid too poorly. There's a big market for people who can make up hypothetical situations to create fear and sell made up reports on how to deal with the problem. It's a bull market in security fiction."

Sadly, I know. I could make a lot of money hyping the threat. I can't tell you how many times reporters ask me questions like: "What's the worst that can happen?" Often, I refuse to answer, claiming that the worst-case scenario is not a realistic one.

aikimarkApril 11, 2006 8:38 AM

@Bruce,

You don't necessarily need to attend the game. For symmetrical structures, you can walk/drive by orthogonal sides and use the longitude of the E/W pass and the latitude of the N/S pass.

I'm not sure that black market missiles would be the first choice of guerilla terrorists. (I'm still pondering the improbable movie plot blog, so avoiding early detection is important.)

========================
A pulse jet enthusiast from New Zealand has estimated the cost of building a cruise missile in the $6000-$10000 range.
http://aardvark.co.nz/pjet/cruise.shtml

========================
I assume that some sort of ballistic device (mortar) would be even cheaper to construct. However, most mortars don't have a great deal of range.

I've seen some impressive 'potato shooters' that cost less than $10 capable of hurling relatively small objects hundreds of feet powered by aerosol bug spray! This technology might scale well for targets up to 1 mile away.

Tim VernumApril 11, 2006 8:38 AM

> "What's the worst that can happen?"

I'm worried about aliens landing in the Afghanistan desert and giving their death rays to Al Queda.

Ed T.April 11, 2006 8:40 AM

"...apparently terrorists could use coordinates gained from Google Earth to fire a Scud missile from a ship on to a football stadium..."

A SCUD missile?!? IIRC, the accuracy of the Scud missile is like +- a good-size town - why would they care about the accuracy of Google earth, just point the thing in the general direction of the city and let 'er rip!

~EdT.

DarronApril 11, 2006 8:44 AM

@Bruce Schneier -- many times reporters ask me questions like: "What's the worst that can happen?"

One possible answer: A nearby supernova could destroy all life on earth.

Unfortunately, you can't count on a reporter understanding your point.

MSBApril 11, 2006 8:46 AM

'Sometimes I wonder about "security experts."'

Me too. Anyone with high school-level science and math education will realize that the coordinates of a football stadium, as a piece of information, is fundamentally insecurable. There are just way too many simple, low-tech methods of determining it. Hyperbole like that from a purported security expert makes one question his common sense (or the lack of).

Fred PageApril 11, 2006 8:49 AM

@Bruce-
"Often, I refuse to answer, claiming that the worst-case scenario is not a realistic one."
- but the worst-case scenario sells papers :-)

ChrisApril 11, 2006 8:50 AM

"That's certainly true. But I don't think we can possibly make those people dissppear. We can certainly make them fewer in number, but we can't eliminate them. The next best thing is to render them less effective."

Alternatively, we could stop meddling - which is the root cause for the anti-American feelings in the middle east anyway. Propping up authotirarian regimes when they suit our purpose has proved counter-productive.

Clive RobinsonApril 11, 2006 8:59 AM

@aikimark

"A pulse jet enthusiast from New Zealand has estimated the cost of building a cruise missile in the $6000-$10000 range.
"

I don't know about the rest of the missile, but you can build a pulse jet with just a bent length of car exhaust pipe and an exhaust pipe system from a two stroke motor bike. It realy is very simple, has no moving parts and as long as the fule is supplied it keeps running. A ten year old using his dads workshop and a little patience could build one in a week end.

Take a look at a WWII V1 system to see how simple the rest is to build, and it carried a 2000lb war head. The V1 used a different version of the pulse jet, which used a seires of vains across the air inlet this is a very much harder engenering proplem but a mid-teenager with the same workshop could build one as a high school project in around 1 month of evenings and weekends...

Drawings of both of these pulse jet systems are available on the internet with a simple GOOGLE (threat ;)

arlApril 11, 2006 9:00 AM

The problem might exist for a military installation where the critical target is inside a much larger, secure area. Hitting a small command post within a 20 square mile base would be hard. Google does not have those pictures.

Ballistic missles are expensive, require a place to launch from and there are systems in place to detect and counter them. You are not going to make ballistic missles go away, but putting more systems in place to deal with low volume attacks sounds like a good idea.


John Smith III.April 11, 2006 9:01 AM

The biggest fear? I think that would be a mass panic based on a non-existant danger, something like there was when Orson Wells broadcast his radio play War of the Worlds. And we were at this point already after 9/11. It can come back.

BramApril 11, 2006 9:11 AM

@Bruce -- That's certainly true. But I don't think we can possibly make those people dissppear. We can certainly make them fewer in number, but we can't eliminate them. The next best thing is to render them less effective.

Yeah, but isn't there another side to the problem of terroism loose from the harm terroist can do. Namely the terror they set loose on a population. Lessening that can be done loose from lessening the terrorist, namely by having media that report a bit more neutral and less hyping. In the end the deaths aren't the problem of todays terrorism so the terror is.

BobApril 11, 2006 9:22 AM

"There's a big market for people who can make up hypothetical situations to create fear and sell made up reports on how to deal with the problem. It's a bull market in security fiction"

Did anybody remember Irak's WMD? Now the threat is Iran ... whose next?

BTW, you just can buy a commercial GPS guided plane or a remote controlled one. Like the aerosonde (I think it retails for around $15,000) and it already successfully crossed the Atlantic. (Although the payload is quite low you can spread some bio agent)

You only need a rocket/missile when you expect some defensive system. I am not aware there is such a thing on sports stadiums or malls.

TharosApril 11, 2006 9:32 AM

I am uncertain as to the casualty rate by using a single such weapon. If it hit the stands, you might kill (at best) a couple hundred people due tot he explosion alone and possibly some structures collapsing. Certainly it's not small potatoes - but on the other hand, when you think that a stadium typically holds upwards of 10000 people, it doesn't seem like a good choice. People would be more scared if their local walmart or starbucks was bombed I think, even if not as many people were hurt.

Besides, such a missile striking somewhere around the centerline of a stadium would probably cause very few deaths and very little damage.

There's also the question of limited payload.

HugeApril 11, 2006 9:48 AM

I guess most of the posters in this thread don't remember (or don't know) that the IRA have been quite successfully mounting attacks against public infrastructure for years using remote controlled mortars mounted in trucks or vans. Nothing more sophisticated than lengths of drainpipe, explosives and either a timer or radio control from a model shop. They even managed to land one in the garden of No.10 Downing Street. No GPS, no missiles, no expensive anything. KISS applies to terrorism just as much as any other form of engineering.

RSaundersApril 11, 2006 9:56 AM

What's the point of GPS, or cruise missiles for that matter, for a terrorist network? GPS cruise missiles are used by the US to attack very specific targets in distant countries in an attempt to avoid terrorizing the neighborhood. (We're not arguing the effectiveness of this attempt.) Terrorists don't care about specific, small, targets. Terrorists are attacking from within the immediate area, because if you launch a missile from Tehran that lands in the US you're going to get a SLBM response that will ruin your day. Terrorists want to terrorize the neighborhood, and hope the TV media spread the news and terrorize everybody. That's why we call them terrorists.

If you have $25K to spend against a soccer stadium, get some good quality Russian mortars. An 82mm mortar has a 4km range, doesn't need GPS if you have a compass. Park your truck 3 km away, on the other side of a building or two, and drop 5-6 shells in the stadium (less than 30 secs). Gun the engine and drive off. If you can't hit a soccer stadium, go back home and practice. If you drop them inside, you'll create a mass panic that will kill more folks than the mortar rounds. There is no effective anti-mortar technology. Even in Iraq, the US only uses counter-battery fire and patrols to catch the folks doing it. That's not going to happen in a city.

DragonHunterApril 11, 2006 9:57 AM

Let's also consider, your standard publicly-available GPS receiver will put out current coordinates through it's interface every 0.5-1 sec. If you are talking a true missle, traveling hundreds of miles and hour it is just plain HARD to make control mechanisms that respond fast enough to make it any better than plotting a trajectory and launching the thing without and "downrange controls."

This "expert" just get's press because the average person on the street just has some dim idea of what GPS is capable of and believes that the "HollywoodOS" exists for computers to do stuff like they see in the movies.

boolApril 11, 2006 10:04 AM

I do not know what is more pathetic: the existence of manipulative snake oil peddlers such as Mr. Klaus Dieter Matschke or the existence of people willing to give them the slightest credibility. Again, the human element of security is the most important one.

AGApril 11, 2006 10:13 AM

Bruce you are absolutely wrong and right...
You are wrong -->Maps and Google Earth could be "terror tools".
You are right--> Anything can be a "terror tool" so Maps and Google Earth would be items that have a very low threat rating.

TharosApril 11, 2006 10:13 AM

That is a good point - the panic would be the biggest killer :)

As for the GPS - this is used to correct inertial guidance, NOT as guidance itself. The missile will strike the given coordinates easily enough with GPS-corrected INS. Problem is, cruise missiles ain't cheap.

You can build the engine for yay-much, but, building up an INS and an autopilot with the correct instrumentation to control the vehicle is -not- cheap.

Jack C LiptonApril 11, 2006 10:18 AM

Oddly enough, I can imagine a situation where an explosion on one side of the stands would lead to cheering in the *other* side of the stands, thinking that it's a gimmick to promote their own team.

Then again, a strike on such a stadium, especially in one of the more rowdy regions, might actually cut down on casualties due to the regular rioting.

(Laughs)

Like UA#232 "crash-landing" at Sioux Falls back in the late 1980s; somehow, when an airliner "crash" lands smoothly everyone dies but let it cartwheel...

There is a certain amount of irony here.

Using a VT-fused shell to take out both *teams* and you will have a more interesting outcome despite the lower initial body count, all due to the fighting over which team "would have won".

I'm sorry, but the initial "risk" seems stupid.

I've ref'd Bruce's "Plot Challenge" over on alt.callahans (a UseNet news group) and some of the commentary has been entertaining.

Some points, of course, are that the PATRIOT act and the like are the equivalent of anaphylactic (sp?) shock after something no more serious than a mosquito bite and many of the "mitigation" strategies are more a matter of isolation and "not living" instead of carrying an epi-pen (which would symbolize a flexible response mechanism).

ShuraApril 11, 2006 10:42 AM

Judging by this page (http://www.kdm-portal.com/kdm_team.html), it seems that (assuming I didn't misunderstand the German text) Mr Matschke is the CEO of a security consulting agency. I'm not surprised - he probably thinks it's in his best (business) interest to raise a big stink so he can sell people a solution (or some snake oil, at least).

rob bainbridgeApril 11, 2006 11:00 AM

Some interesting comments and perceptions here. I think one of the most important has perhaps been overlooked - that of the integrity of the source of the information.
Google Earth (and its fantastic features in my opinion) aside, one needs to consider the impact of sites referenced (and read by many) on the Internet today. To carry on from Bruce's opening statement, how can we verify the accuracy, or indeed qualifications of this "security expert". The near-ubiquitous use of Blogs further allows all and sundry to make their opinions known - often resulting in the outcome which we are discussing.
How do we avoid this - don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, and reference only well-known and well-regarded sources.

Bruce SchneierApril 11, 2006 11:14 AM

"Yeah, but isn't there another side to the problem of terroism loose from the harm terroist can do. Namely the terror they set loose on a population. Lessening that can be done loose from lessening the terrorist, namely by having media that report a bit more neutral and less hyping. In the end the deaths aren't the problem of todays terrorism so the terror is."

I agree with this, and wrote about it in Beyond Fear. If the media stopped reporting terrorist attacks, then the terrorists would be denied the primary vector for their goals. But while it's a nice idea in theory, I don't think we can both implement it as a solution and maintain a free and independent press.

Clive RobinsonApril 11, 2006 11:16 AM

@Huge

"I guess most of the posters in this thread don't remember (or don't know) that the IRA"

I remember it all to well as I was working just around the corner on that occasion (launched from St James Park). Not that we actually heard anything it was a very very small device.

Alun JonesApril 11, 2006 11:17 AM

@Bruce:
"That's certainly true. But I don't think we can possibly make those people dissppear. We can certainly make them fewer in number, but we can't eliminate them. The next best thing is to render them less effective."
Rendering them less effective is a lot easier when you make them [fanatical xenophobes] fewer in number.
Of course, any proposal to do that, by reminding the radical xenophobes that we really aren't as alien to them as they think, gets painted as "pandering to the terrorists".
I think much of the world could be fixed if people were to spend an hour with a person from a group that they are supposed to hate. Everywhere I've gone in the world, it's always struck me how people are more alike than they are different. Only when you focus on the differences can you incite murderous hatred.
Sadly, whenever a group of people is described, it's always "they're just like us, except..." - and we ignore the "just like us", and focus on the "except...", strengthening our view that these people are aliens.

AnonymousApril 11, 2006 11:24 AM

@Tharos

"but, building up an INS and an autopilot with the correct instrumentation to control the vehicle is -not- cheap"

That's because you keep thinking speed and embeded technology.

Think single engined aircraft (more expensive models have an autopilot of varing sophistication). Think NEMA devices available from most chandlers for the yachting fraternaty, think public domain software for NEMA navigation.

The Joy of an aircraft is you can keep flying it around (circuit and bumps) whilst you debug the system and get the control elerment right, you then have a much greater degree of confidence when you want it to fall out of the sky on a suitably large target (football stadium).

TharosApril 11, 2006 11:31 AM

At issue is integrating your hardware. Navigation is more complex for aircraft - a small engined plane with an autopilot is a great start, but if you don't have an AP already you're in a bit of a bind ... besides. Simpler to put a suicide bomber in there. Better accuracy too (although on this scale it may not matter)

AGApril 11, 2006 11:35 AM

@Bruce
I wrote up a long piece myself on changing the reporting of attacks, but deleted it since I also agree that getting into the middle of reporting and changing it would be very bad.

Instead, I believe we need to agree that "terrorist" come in all shapes and sizes. Terrorist can be citizens. Terrorist can be children.
What makes a "Terrorist" not a murderer? Goals.
"Terrorist" have a gripe and a goal. A murderer does not.
We need a forum were "Terrorist" could have there gripe heard and addressed.

If the gripes were seriously addressed then maybe we could get at the heart of the issue before it becomes a bomb or a missile.

derfApril 11, 2006 11:48 AM

If you really wanted to provoke terror, you'd leave a nasty looking bomb package somewhere in the stadium and call in a bomb threat. Between the two, the game would be cancelled and the stadium evacuated. You didn't even have to kill anyone. No Google or actual explosives is needed.

alienApril 11, 2006 11:54 AM

The al Qaeda cell in the Showcase TV show "Sleeper Cell" didn't need a GPS to get a truck full of explosives and chemicals into a baseball stadium. Maybe there will be another season featuring the amazing terror potential of Google Earth? ;)

Pat CahalanApril 11, 2006 11:57 AM

Next someone's going to want to ban laser pointers because "they could be used to guide laser-guided missiles!" or something equally nutty.

@ Bruce

You should use Darren's answer to "what's the worst that could happen?"

Or something geekily entertaining like, "I could walk through a localized violation of the strong law of large numbers and suddenly attract enough free protons, neutrons, and electrons to transmute into lead. That would suck."

AnonymousApril 11, 2006 12:15 PM

"I can't tell you how many times reporters ask me questions like: "What's the worst that can happen?" Often, I refuse to answer, claiming that the worst-case scenario is not a realistic one."

If it was me I would have a canned scenario all ready, that involves the death of all reporters in the entire world, or some region of it.

But I'm evil :-)

Extra points if you can get the reporters to actually print it.

stacyApril 11, 2006 12:32 PM

“Here's one who thinks Google Earth is a terrorism risk […]��?

I think this guy must work for my local school board. A couple of my kids are going to be on a field trip and they brought home the paperwork that needs to be filled out and signed. The biggy was the “acknowledgement of risk��? form. Apparently, the board has a ‘risk assessment’ process and the outcome is the list of risks that are included on the form. For my needs it is useless, it might be a great CYA for the school board but it doesn’t help me assess the risk associated with this trip. It listed thing like “risks associated with traveling by bus��?; thanks, that was useful. They forgot to mention the risk of choking on a melon ball from the breakfast buffet.

aikimarkApril 11, 2006 12:35 PM

@Clive Robinson

The price I quoted was from the NZ pulse jet enthusiast's site. The cost of the pulse jet engine is relatively cheap. The cost of avionics, flight controls, and payload delivery mechanisms would probably account for the price increase (over $1k-$5k base costs).

The avionics don't have to rely (entirely) on GPS, which can be 'fuzzed' by our military/govermnet in sensitive areas of the world (think theaters of combat). You might want to use multiple systems (1-3 targeting transponders in the stadium, or 3 ground-based antennae to transmit their own location reference signals, or internal guidance system).

=============================
@RSaunders
"... get some good quality Russian mortars. An 82mm mortar has a 4km range, doesn't need GPS if you have a compass. "
* $25k is still quite a bit of money (out of a $500k movie premise budget)
* purchasing military equipment attracts attention. (movie) bad guys don't want to get caught before their plan is executed.

"There is no effective anti-mortar technology. Even in Iraq, the US only uses counter-battery fire and patrols to catch the folks doing it. That's not going to happen in a city."
* this seems contradictory, since counter-battery fire would neutralize the source.
* although they are small objects, they are still ballistic projectiles and are subject to interception fire.
* what makes you think that DC doesn't already have such technology positioned around the center of federal government?!?
* I agree with you that most cities wouldn't/shouldn't try to mount such defenses. It isn't practical. However, some target-rich events, such as the Super Bowl, might warrant this added protection if threat assessments indicated a non-trivial threat.

=========================
I think we are all on the same track as Bruce and derf, in our assessment of risk by public knowledge of precise stadium (target) location by Google or any other means.

Davi OttenheimerApril 11, 2006 12:45 PM

"[online maps are] not the problem; the problem is the availability of short-range missiles on the black market"

So is the problem with the supply, the demand or both?

While I agree that we should say that SRMs are weapons, and weapons can be used for evil, I think this doesn't do much to the argument against the availability of sensitive information on the black market, since sensitive information can be used for evil as well. In fact I often describe databases with sensitive information as "weaponized" because the comparison seems to help clarify the value of the assets, the threats, and the need for reducing vulnerabilities.

I also agree that while SRM are (usually*) hard to find/assemble, map information is increasingly easy to create with accuracy. However, this doesn't refute the point that some information may need to be classified as sensitive.

So while I agree with you on your points, I think a more compelling response to Matschke is that securing the positioning information he's worried about is like securing the air -- impossible. Focus on things that you can actually "control" and your chances of survivability will increase proportionately.

* There has been much ongoing discussion about how/why the Bush Administration could allow weapons caches in Iraq to be unguarded and looted after occupation...

LongwalkerApril 11, 2006 12:54 PM

The biggest terror risk of GPS is the terrorist blowback that happens when Washington uses GPS-guided weapons to terrorize foreign populations for the crimes of living over a lake of oil or failing to ask 'how high?' when Washington says 'jump.'

AGApril 11, 2006 1:14 PM

Why not use Google Earth to end messages covertly?

Goto a farm in the middle of nowhere and write out code in the corn with a large tractor... or paint a message on the top of a large building

DMApril 11, 2006 1:21 PM

Did anyone read this article on Dominator swarms: http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002309.html

A swarm of drones carrying a handfull of bomblets each. In the Dominator scheme, the bomblets are fairly big.

Consider a small autonomous aircraft carrying 2-4 40mm grenade warheads, a cheap INS autopilot, and a real cheap machine vision system onboard.

I read that robosapien is getting machine vision [http://www.evolution.com/core/ViPR/]. That means its gotta cost less than a few dollars a piece in quantity.

You can buy an electric r/c aircraft now for less than $100 - again, much less in quantity. Building a foam CNC machine and making them yourself is even cheaper. Or you could subcontract the whole job to a chinese toy company.

The hard part is the autopilot, but again, it doesnt have to be very good - just a digital compass and some low-quality rate gyros to give the plane a sense of orientation.

So what happens when you let 1000 of these things loose on a city, their machine vision and autopilot programmed to dive-bomb clusters of people or cars?

Even if the machine vision is only 50% right, and half the planes fail to work, thats still 1000 or so grenades being dropped on people.

Yuck.

funkyjApril 11, 2006 1:42 PM

speaking of movie plots and supernovae, the nova thing is a great movie plot! Wacko islamic terrorist studies cosmology in school and discovers a way to trigger Sol into going nova! Indonesia is conveniently muslim (lots of grass roots support for terrorism) and equatorial (helps with the rocket launch of _the device_). Ameena Smith is our half breed terrorist villan. This is hollywood so we need a hot chick villian hence "Ameena". Background: her father was a US soldier in Iraq that raped a muslim woman.


The whole world is destroyed after Ameena kick's Sidney Bristow's ass in a last sexy fight scene.

The movie ends with the successful destruction all life on earth. Split screen: on the right we see the faithful in paradise as God makes good on his promise of 40 virgins while on the left side we see the decadent sinners beginning their sentence of eternity is the tortures of hell (does islam have hell?).

RoxanneApril 11, 2006 2:04 PM

I wonder what he thinks of all those 1:10,000 topo maps they sell at hiking shops. Heck, I wonder what Homeland Security thinks of them, since a governmental agency paid to have them made, back in the day. :-) Good news: we can map any point on earth! Bad news: So can everyone else. Hmmm....

What about that service I read about last week, where a company in Connecticut has taken photographs of the entire country, matched them to their GPS coordinates, and they're available for a fee to pretty much anyone who pays the fee. Know ahead of time just which house you're looking for, whether you're the Fire Department, FBI, or a burglar.... Hmmmm....

So it goes. Every sword has two edges.

AGApril 11, 2006 2:15 PM

Modifying the path of a large space rock to hit the Earth is still the best Terror weapon... after all that is how the Islam Dinosaurs took out the Christian Dinosaurs last time around. :-P

CRApril 11, 2006 2:32 PM

In USSR the cartographical organizations intentionally distorted the maps for civil purposes. It was impossible to find maps with correct coordinates.
Actually there was no reason for such distortions because the "probable opponents" (i.e. US and NATO) could use satellites.

KlausApril 11, 2006 3:13 PM

Bruce: "If the media stopped reporting terrorist attacks, then the terrorists would be denied the primary vector for their goals. But while it's a nice idea in theory, I don't think we can both implement it as a solution and maintain a free and independent press."

Why not? Wouldn't it be a great sign of patriotism if the media stopped the hype and acted in a sensible manner. It seems they pretent patriotism to produce fear to rise their sales.

By the way: a very good BBC documentary about the origins of the muslim terrorists and the neocons is available at http://www.archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares

PeterApril 11, 2006 3:39 PM

One would like to hear the conversations Mr. Matscheke imagines occuring in the training camps: "Arrrgh... We might as well dump the missles and head home. Google just stopped revealing map coordinates online!" But singling out this one strategy for ridicule seems mean spirited when so much of the industry thinks the same way.

The first and second most successful terrorist coups I can think of were pulled off with box cutters and fertilizer, respectively. Less talented contenders have used commercial explosives and guns. The most advanced technology that comes to mind in any high profile terrorist attack in the US is probably the 1990 Chevy Caprice used by Muhammad and Malvo, the Beltway Snipers. Why would a serious terrorist who has access to a hardware store bother with the logistics and expense of guided missles?

There's a lot to be gained from scaring people for both sides of the terror business. Missles make better copy than the more likely weapons of the next major attack, which will probably turn out to matches or something from under the sink.


YvanApril 11, 2006 3:45 PM

Google Earth is tiny, nearly unmentionable threat to terrorism because of the complexity of effectively using it.

It is a much bigger threat when one considers how local criminals may use it. For my neighbourhood it shows all of the trees around a local school, perfect for some creep to figure out in advance what would be good places to hide before he makes a trip down to the school :P

Relating the potential abuse of high quality cartographic information (i.e. Google Earth, etc) to terrorism was nothing more than taking the steps necessary to get publicity. Regardless of the opinions of people, he will likely end up giving a suitable presentation on "Terrorism" at his local security conference.

DanApril 11, 2006 3:56 PM

Unfortunately, far too many "security experts" are too busy causing FUD, rather than addressing the real problem.

The Bush government is excellent at this approach to security... having the TSA confiscate lighters wouldn't be necessary if you didn't allow terrorists with explosives on the planes.

AndrewApril 11, 2006 5:31 PM

@rob

"The near-ubiquitous use of Blogs further allows all and sundry to make their opinions known - often resulting in the outcome which we are discussing.
How do we avoid this - don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, and reference only well-known and well-regarded sources."

In my experience, well-known sources are often at least as full of disinformation and misinformation as the uninformed general public. They may or may not know that they are lying . . . all that well known means is that the person has a large audience for some reason.

Well-regarded sources are as reliable as their audiences. FOX News, for example, does not strike me as a credible source on many subjects -- but blows Time magazine out of the water by comparison.

"The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa." -- Robert A. Heinlein

One benefit of blogs is that errors can result in detailed corrections and commentary in near real time, as with the 1119 comments on this story and Bruce's own commentary.

I will admit that Google Earth is great for doing preliminary target assessment. However, anything truly interesting done by a national government is going to be underground anyway.

Rob MayfieldApril 11, 2006 6:17 PM

@Bruce: If the media stopped reporting terrorist attacks, then the terrorists would be denied the primary vector for their goals. But while it's a nice idea in theory, I don't think we can both implement it as a solution and maintain a free and independent press.

It's not the focus of this discussion, but theres a lot said about the press that I believe misses the point by more than the width of a soccer stadium - namely can someone identify where on this planet there exists a truly free and truly independent press that is also reputable ?

Censorship of these events in the press does not expose the average citizen to any risk or loss of liberty over and above what they are already exposed to - truly free and independent press was lost a long time ago, if indeed we ever had it in the first place.

Filias CupioApril 11, 2006 7:42 PM

Just to be a pedant on a couple of points:
(1) You have to be surprisingly close to a supernova for it to have dramatic deleterious effects. There aren't any pre-supernova stars within range, so that method of global destruction isn't happening any time soon. Ask again in >10 million years.
(2) 'Like UA#232 "crash-landing" at Sioux Falls back in the late 1980s; somehow, when an airliner "crash" lands smoothly everyone dies but let it cartwheel...'
I can't make out what this is trying to say, but that crash had over 60% survival rate. It didn't land smoothly because they had very little control, and one wing dipped at the wrong moment and hit the ground before the landing gear. The airmanship which prevented it being a 0% survival rate is legendary.

451FApril 11, 2006 9:20 PM

"""I will admit that Google Earth is great for doing preliminary target assessment."""

And high-school science is a great way of doing preliminary weapon design.

Can we take the risk of allowing knowlege to fall into the wrong hands? Ban it before it's too late!

TankApril 11, 2006 9:49 PM

Kind of a straw man ain't it?
Try applying all the same logic and arguements to Saudi Oil infrastucture.

Personally I jsut watched Simon Reeve's (The New Jackals) BBC documentary series called "Holidays in places that don't exist". It is about states which aren't officially recognised as independent states.

In several episodes he travels throughout the 'stans and former Soviet states and visits massive, completely unguarded munitions bunkers and storage grounds.

Since these sites are completely unguarded and in one case an aircraft hanger full of explosives is secured by a piece of string on the door, the guy refuses to provide specific information on where in the state these things are located. The information you have to go on though is that there are school-bus-sized Russian missiles out in the open stacked size-by-side for hundreds of yards.

Tell me the reason Google Earth isn't the sole cause for concern there. And when I say "there" I mean areas where al Qaeda and other sepratist terrorist groups have been recruiting and training for some years.

ArchangelApril 11, 2006 10:32 PM

(AG) "Why not use Google Earth to end messages covertly?

Goto a farm in the middle of nowhere and write out code in the corn with a large tractor... or paint a message on the top of a large building"

Sure, and wait a year for it to update, and hope nobody looks there besides your target recipient. Oh, wait, what if the corn grows back between the last photo pass of that region and the next? What if somebody happens by and actually tends to the corn field? What happens when they harvest the corn? Whose tractor are you stealing to write this message? How about when the cross-country flights notice it, or the government satellite sweeps? We're talking car-sized to house-sized resolution for the lettering on Google, and making sure the message is timed to the footage capture. And we're expecting Google to actually pass the message into its display map. And nobody to notice in the meantime.

Think about the systems you describe sensibly. Shave with Ockham's Razor once in a while.

ThomasApril 12, 2006 3:33 AM

Bruce,

some german "security experts" are funny anyway. So a couple of months ago another "expert" proposed to jam the GPS signal around nuclear power plants to protect them from hijacked planes.

Well if you do this in germany with a reasonable radius around this power plants, nobody in germany or even central europe can use GPS.

Thomas

Adam LockApril 12, 2006 7:17 AM

@Clive Robinson
"Hey add this one to the "Movie Plot" List".

I think you have one there. Use GPS & remote control to fly a crop duster plane into a filled stadium and do a few laps over the crowd while releasing something nasty.

waldoApril 12, 2006 7:47 AM

this is typical ...
A long time ago... before the advent of gps ... we used maps , made of paper. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept of paper. We had them on all scales, even with buildings printed on them, and on those maps, were coordinates.

So please ... how is this new technology offering them anything new ?

SiennaLizardApril 12, 2006 9:13 AM

@ waldo:

> So please ... how is this new technology offering them anything new ?

Well, yes. A near free resource, requiring no time or funds in procuring the maps, allowing the rapid comparison of several different tracts of land at the same time, quickly alternating by different scales, map types and aerial photos. Largely untracable in use, available similtaneously to a whole team.

But you're all right: a dedicated team will succeed in their objective. Taking down interactive mapping services only really penalises legitimate users.

HarroldApril 12, 2006 10:49 AM

@Bruce:
"That's certainly true. But I don't think we can possibly make those people dissppear. We can certainly make them fewer in number, but we can't eliminate them. The next best thing is to render them less effective."

This is absurd. First, the assumption of this statement is that stopping the black market would be easier. Being black and international, you are just plain wrong that shutting down black markets is any easier.

Second, you cannot kill your way out. When you attack a group with powerful connections (like radical Islamic folks these days), the group tends to increase in size, not go down.

If we institute a draft and send everyone kids to die in foolish wars, then protest over the wars increase, not decrease.

There are more terrorists attacks worldwide now than before we invaded Iraq, so killing them is doing nothing to step the tide of terrorist, but in fact has increased it, including creating relatiatory terrorists (aren't they all?).

One way to reduce terrorism might be to not invade and occupy foreign countries. Another might be to allow one country to build nuclear energy plants, especially if the neighbor next door has already created bombs and gets US Aid for its nukes. Another might be to use our vast economic power to assist rather than punish other countries.

US foreign policies have helped create the terrorist situation. Heck, we seem to be looking for ways to turn Mexicans into terrorists now.

BertApril 12, 2006 10:07 PM

What if terrorists create fear by taking responsibility for an accident - eg. a large fire in a shopping centre. Terrorists claim that they did it - or get media reports that it was a terrorist attack. Even if the police / govt report that it was an accident - the damage may have been done.

TankApril 12, 2006 11:41 PM

Bert they have already done that and the result was the predictable, that everybody treated it as bullshit and therefor didn't report it.

There is a group in Iraq that claims responsibility for all large attacks whether they were involved or not and also claimed responsibility for the largest blackouts in the US a couple of years ago

judasApril 13, 2006 8:13 PM

> "What's the worst that can happen?"

On this case, one of the worst scenarios is already present, go and read the history, most dangerous terrorist are "in house" from long time now...no need GPS or MAP..if you want to see them,just turn on the TV.

Thomas Elias WeatherlyApril 15, 2006 8:02 PM

The terrorist group the "Knights of the Holy"
infiltrate the IRS and the Government Printing Office; they saturate the tax forms with a genetically altered Ebola virus which is only activated by a combination of phthalocyanine type pigment (Ink) and perspiration. There will be an outbreak of Ebola over the entire country on April 15th. By the time that the government discovers the source it will be too late.

alexApril 15, 2006 8:14 PM

This whole story has a completely hillarious little twist.

He assumes terrorists can obtain a short range missle on the black market, have the knowledge and technical equipment to launch a lbm from a ship but are not able to get their target coordinates by other means than google earth. If I'd be a multi million dollar budget terrorist I surely wouldn't rely on googleearth with that.
One would think that if you spent a shitload of money on a missile, a ship, the rebuilding and the "crew" that you can afford a gps or a set of accurate maps.

RealistNovember 16, 2006 4:21 PM

@Mike Sherwood
"When you don't need sophisticated hardware to avoid military countermeasures, it's basically a radio controlled aircraft."

...you might want to dig up a novel called "Black Sunday" from way back in early / mid 1970's...

MikeyJune 1, 2007 9:07 AM

I feel Google Earth is indeed somewhat of a threat... For example, the base I'm stationed on seems to have significantly higher resolution imagery than the surrounding areas. Additionally, one can look up deployed bases, such as Bagram Afghanistan for example, and see where all the helicopters, vehicles, etc. are located via the imagery. I know that this sort of stuff is usefull for staging attacks because we use the same thing against our enemies.

- Just my two cents...

sturgisJune 11, 2007 10:03 AM

I find it interesting that these "experts" are specifically targetting google, while ignoring terraserver, yahoo maps (which provide satellite overlays) and a bunch of other similar services, including stand alone packages that don't need a net connect. Admittedly, stand alone packages don't provide frequent updates. But neither does google. I can see my brothers car parked at his workplace to this very day. Yet, he hasn't worked there in 6 months, and hasn't had that car in 3 years.

Also, i've noticed that many of the images that can be found on the net were taken by usgs surveys. So yep. Nail google because the government is providing these images. Smart!

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