In England, Much Ado About Nothing Much

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Maybe there's something about being immersed in cyberspace that makes people paranoid. That's one possible explanation, anyway, for the waves of panic emanating Tuesday from a meeting of international business and legal executives in London. The conclusions from the conference, organized to address issues affecting international commerce, led the director of the FBI's national infrastructure center to dire postulations. "Companies and private-sector entities are the new targets for terrorism and acts of war," he told Reuters. Internet crime, he added, is spreading rapidly and will affect everyone.

True, no one could cite any hard-and-fast figures on Internet crime, but that didn't keep another expert from using apocalyptic terms, predicting a continued rash of crime from an "electronic bestiary" of "locusts" (what the rest of us call criminals). So we're looking at a future of electronic fire and brimstone? Not likely, says TIME technology writer Joshua Quittner. "Whenever there's a high-tech law-enforcement convention somewhere, we hear cybercops sounding the alarm: Cybercrime is reaching a critical state and doomsday is upon us." It's tough to get worked into a frenzy, adds Quittner, when there's no evidence that any of these claims is true. "I haven't heard of a single major cybercrime, hack or hijacking — ever." Of course, the cybercops have to justify their cyber-beat.