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Businesses fear the next attacks might be launched online

Source: ZDNet UK

Posted on September 18, 2001

      Corporations are taking steps to protect computer networks after last week's strikes on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, fearing that the next attacks might be launched online.

      Although many companies were in shock this week, some executives did not waste any time in preparing for possible cyber attacks, which often follow closely on the heels of international conflicts, experts said.

      In a recent example, there were numerous defacements of US Web sites after the 1 April collision between a Chinese jet fighter and a US surveillance plane.

      "A lot of people are concerned about cyberterrorism since the attacks," said Joel Pogar, director of information security at Calence, a computer network consulting firm in Phoenix. "Electronic attacks are even easier to do because you don't have to do them on US soil," Pogar said. "The Internet and electronic communications are a lot more vulnerable. You don't need a plane to attack an Internet connection."

      Pogar said he's seen at least a 50 percent increase in business since Tuesday, with smaller firms seeking to upgrade firewalls and intrusion detection systems that keep malicious hackers out.

      A major financial institution has asked Calence to help separate its national computer network into five regional networks so the whole system won't be compromised if security is breached at one office, Pogar said.

      In another case, a chip manufacturing company has decided to temporarily take down its external Internet links with suppliers until it is sure its partners have their networks secured, Pogar said. "They're going low-tech, back to paper and faxes and what we used to do in the 1980s before we had virtual private networks and widespread Internet connections," Pogar said.

      Some customers who have their networks watched by Counterpane Internet Security also have requested additional monitoring services, according to Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of the Cupertino, California-based company.

      "Existing customers very quickly wanted help and assurances," Schneier said.

      Foundstone, a security consulting and managed services firm based in Irvine, California, also starting taking in more business on Tuesday, despite losing its office in the World Trade Center.

      "That day we got called and had a few people who wanted immediate attention," said Foundstone President George Kurtz. "They wanted for us to take a look at their perimeter and make sure their network is locked down."

      Some companies were at least taking the minimal step of blocking out encrypted emails to their networks, said Russ Cooper, surgeon general of TruSecure, a security services provider based in Herndon, Virginia.

      For many companies it has been too early to be taking preventive measures, Cooper and others said.

      "At least here in New York people are still so overwhelmed and shocked they have not given much of a thought to whether they're going to start tightening down their networks," said Fred Rica, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the leader of its threat and vulnerability assessment practice.

      Even if they're not taking action now, companies are more likely to take computer security more seriously as a result of the attacks, said Alan Paller, director of research at the System Administration, Networking and Security Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

      There has been a change in the thinking of high-level executives toward the importance of computer security, he said.

      "They are beginning to ask not do we have a (security) plan or policy, but are our systems protected, and that's a major shift," said Paller.

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