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Source: NewsFactor Network

Posted on May 17, 2001

      U.S. Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah), a longtime proponent of electronic security, said on Monday that cyber attacks from an enemy country could cause as much disruption as a nuclear missile detonating over an American city.

      "The big threat to our security comes from hostile nation-states that can muster sufficient resources to make a concerted significant assault on America," Bennett told attendees at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) conference.

      Bennett announced earlier this month that he plans to introduce new cyber security legislation sometime before the summer. A source close to the planned initiative said last week that the bill would allow for corporations to swap information about threats to their IT infrastructure, unencumbered by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) restrictions. The law should be very similar to last year's Cyber Security Information Act of 2000.

When Foes Attack

      Bennett told conference attendees that cyber terrorists would probably not attack the U.S. military or its intelligence agencies because of their strong defenses, but would most likely hit the U.S. banking system and comparable entities.

      However, SecurityFocus.com incident analyst Ryan Russell told NewsFactor Network that Bennett's comments are not in line with reality as "the military gets hacked all the time."

      Charles Kolodgy, research manager of technology intelligence firm IDC's Internet Security Group, told NewsFactor that Bennett's assertions might have more to do with his intended audience than with the facts.

      Said Kolodgy: "AFCEA is mostly military electronic warfare types, who want to hear this stuff."

      "In fact," Russell added, "banks are generally better about their security than most other businesses or government agencies. They have a better understanding of the risks and what their assets are worth.

      "Or, put another way, how much trouble would the government be in if the IRS lost a year's worth of taxes? One of the government's own [security] teams recently found the IRS security severely lacking."

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

      Richard Stiennon, an Internet security analyst for the Gartner Group, concurred with Russell's assessment.

      "Lack of security is often used to drum up fear, uncertainty and doubt, or FUD," Stiennon told NewsFactor.

      "Corporations have done a great job of defending their computing resources as they develop new e-business ventures. Local, state and federal government are far behind private enterprise in developing strong defenses."

      In addition, Russell took exception to Senator Bennett's primary assertion.

      "Sorry, the Internet going down is not going to kill every person in the city," said Russell.

      "Someone [might] die due to a cyber attack because some hospital has their prescription records reachable via the Internet, or because some power company leaves a dialup modem connected to their control systems. But spreading FUD that a cyber attack will be as bad as an [electro-magnetic pulse] wave is ridiculous."

Market Forces

      Stiennon noted that, as with most investments, market forces drive security expenditures.

      Russell agreed, adding that if the federal government really wants to improve IT infrastructure security, those in it ought to vote with their budget dollars and invest in more secure products. Once large, closed-source software vendors register decreased sales, they'll improve their applications.

      As to the threats themselves, Russell noted that "your local 15-year-old" could wreak the same degree of havoc as the garden-variety terrorist.

      Said Russell: "Stories like this would have you think that the foreign attackers have extremely advanced capabilities. They don't. Or, more precisely, they don't need to have them. Resources have very little to do with it."

      Senator Bennett's office reportedly fell victim to the virulent Homepage e-mail worm last week, when a member of his staff opened an infected attachment. There is no word on whether the senator's stance on cyber security precipitated the attack or whether it was coincidental.

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