US draws attention to information warfare threat

By : |December 31, 2000 0

Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON: A year after the Y2K bug, US officials are once again warning
about perceived dangers to a United States increasingly stitched together by
bits and bytes of computer code.

This time, a key stated fear is information warfare, or sneak electronic
assaults that could crash power grids, financial networks, transportation
systems and telecommunications, among other vital services.

National security aides trace the threat to hostile or potentially hostile
governments as well as drug lords, criminal cartels and increasingly computer
savvy guerrilla groups.

Some of these organizations “are doing reconnaissance today on our
networks, mapping them, looking for vulnerabilities,” Richard Clarke,
President Bill Clinton’s top aide for infrastructure protection and
counter-terrorism, told a Microsoft Corp. digital security conference in
Redmond, Washington, on December 8.

Cyber blitzes like those that briefly knocked out major Web sites in February
– including Yahoo! Inc.’s Internet gateway, eBay Inc.’s auction service and
Amazon.com Inc.’s retail site – could easily be copied on a larger scale, said
Clarke, a staff member of the White House National Security Council.

“Criminals, crackers, foreign governments – when the new president reads
that intelligence briefing, he had better move pretty fast,” he added.

Such warnings are not new from Clarke, who has frequently conjured up a
“digital Pearl Harbor,” a reference to the Japanese surprise attack
that threw the United States into the Second World War.

But Clarke and other US officials seem to be stepping up a public awareness
campaign, spurred by the spread of information technology, growing knowledge of
malicious computer code and ever greater U.S. reliance on networked systems.

Cyberincident group meets
On December 18, the National Security Council held the first meeting of the
recently formed Cyberincident Steering Group, aimed at fostering cooperation
between the private sector and government to secure systems from domestic and
international cyber attack.

“This meeting was an important first step in building computer security
programs for the nation,” said Peter Tippett, chief technologist for
TruSecure Corp., a leading computer security company.

Among topics discussed were the creation of a rapid response system and
communications between industry and government, said David Perry, the public
education director for Trend Micro Inc., a maker of anti-virus products, and the
co-chairman of the steering group.

The US intelligence community voiced its concerns last week with the release
of “Global Trends 2015”, a wide-ranging analysis by the CIA, its
sister US spy shops and outside experts.

The report said foes of a militarily dominant United States, rather than
challenging it head-on, would seek to target an Achilles’ heel in cyberspace or
threaten the use of the deadliest chemical, nuclear or biological weapons.

“Such asymmetric approaches – whether undertaken by states or non-state
actors – will become the dominant characteristic of most threats to the US
homeland,” the report, released by the National Intelligence Council, said.

Over time, attacks are increasingly likely to be fired off through computer
networks rather than conventional arms, as “the skill of US adversaries in
employing them” evolves, the assessment said.

FBI fingers China
It said many unnamed countries were developing such technologies to complicate
what the US military refers to as “power projection” and to undermine
morale at home.

The interagency, FBI-led National Infrastructure Protection Center, uses a
slide depicting China’s Great Wall in its standard presentation on cyber
threats, along with a quote from Sun Zi, author of a treatise on war in about
350 BC.

“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of
excellence,” the FBI’s slide quotes the ancient Chinese strategist as
saying.

In a telltale update, the slide includes a 1999 quote from a Chinese
newspaper referring to information warfare as a means of achieving strategic
victory over a militarily superior enemy.

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