blogenlust
12.03.2004

Internet Terrorism


I'm a big believer that we aren't taking the threat of Internet-related terrorism as serious as we should. So, I'm glad to see that George Tenet feels the same way (not that he can do anything about it these days):
Former CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday called for new security measures to guard against attacks on the United States that use the Internet, which he called "a potential Achilles' heel." "I know that these actions will be controversial in this age when we still think the Internet is a free and open society with no control or accountability," he told an information-technology security conference in Washington, "but ultimately the Wild West must give way to governance and control." The former CIA director said telecommunications -- and specifically the Internet -- are a back door through which terrorists and other enemies of the United States could attack the country, even though great strides have been made in securing the physical infrastructure. The Internet "represents a potential Achilles' heel for our financial stability and physical security if the networks we are creating are not protected," Mr. Tenet said. He said known adversaries, including "intelligence services, military organizations and non-state actors," are researching information attacks against the United States.
I think it's difficult to overestimate how much our everyday lives rely on potentially vulnerable technologies. Internet technologies provide significant support for telecommunication systems within the United States. The systems rely on the Internet and networks for voice and data services, which include cellular phone and wireless local-area networks. Individuals and groups have shown that with motivation and an Internet connection, it is possible to develop viruses and hacking techniques, which disrupt these vital communication resources. A more extensive and developed cyber-attack would severely thwart the ability to communicate. The consequences would not be limited to telecommunications. The effects would cascade into industries such as business and finance and have a profound impact on the national economy. Another area where we are vulnerable is in satellite technology. In the military, satellites are crucial tools for gathering and sending information and intelligence. Notably, as a recent situation illustrates, satellites are subject to disruptive attacks on their operations. In the summer of 2003, a Cuban electronics base successfuly jammed an American satellite that provided anti-government programming to Iran. The event produced a new sense of alarm, because it revealed that other countries now possess the the capability and resolution to interfere with the ability of the US to collect and communicate information via satellite. Therefore, this has serious implications on military and intelligence actions, as it hinders the unrestricted access to information provided by satellites, and necessary for any successful operation. This might sound alarmist, but I think these technologies represent a major, relatively exposed vulnerability. At the very least we should be discussing the implications of the threat and be working harder at prevention. Although, I think Tenet's suggestion of almost draconian regulation takes it two steps too far:
The way the Internet was built might be part of the problem, he said. Its open architecture allows Web surfing, but that openness makes the system vulnerable, Mr. Tenet said. Access to networks like the World Wide Web might need to be limited to those who can show they take security seriously, he said.
The people who would not be granted access are those that most likely have the ability to override such a denial of service. It will be virtually impossible to design technology that is completely impenetrable to terrorists. As a result, the best we can do is make sure things are as secure as possible and have backup systems in place in the event of a crippling attack. If your interested in learning more about this stuff, I highly recommend Robert Latham's Bombs and Bandwith.