MIKE WENDLAND: Cybercriminals threaten economic, personal safety
Michigan's computer community is at war -- a cyberwar against organized gangs of computer criminals who are attacking businesses, government agencies and financial and medical institutions.
"It's happening almost every hour," said Dan Lohrmann, chief security officer for the state Department of Information Technology. "Whether it's from hackers or hostile governments or terrorists, the economic and safety risks are huge."
Lohrmann was one of more than 100 top computer security experts who gathered at Walsh College's Novi campus Wednesday for a conference sponsored by InfraGard (www.infragard.net), a partnership between the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies and the private sector to help protect critical information systems. computers using hacker programs in unsuccessful attempts to exploit vulnerabilities or find ways around internal security procedures.
On an average day, 186 people attempt unauthorized access to state computers containing databases with medical files, driving records, highway and electrical distribution grids and other things. In the hands of criminals, such data could be used for identity theft or the disruption of governmental services.
"Everybody is holding their collective breath," said Jeff Recor, president of Olympus Security of Rochester and a Walsh College adjunct professor. Recor frequently works with the FBI and Secret Service to investigate computer break-ins.
"We have detected probing activities over the past couple of months, and the general consensus is that the probing was preparing for cyber and physical attacks."
Recor is a member of a presidential commission on information protection and is to testify before Congress on the issue next week. He refused to identify what institutions or organizations were being probed, a process in which outsiders tried to gain access to sensitive plans or information. Some, however, involved what he said were critical infrastructure sites.
But cyberwar is not always a terrorism problem. Just a few weeks ago, the so-called Slammer worm attack cost world economies $1 billion. Hackers recently used the Internet to access credit card information for more than 8 million people.
Such disruptions are a current reality, said Larry Kuhl, who handles counterterrorism and cybercrime for the FBI in Michigan. Coordinated physical and computer attacks are also a serious concern, he said.
Eudora Adolph, a business continuity director for Consilio Response Team, a Walled Lake computer security firm, said the nation's stalled economy has made businesses vulnerable.
"In light of reduced profits, security is simply not perceived as critical to the core business when it comes to spending money," she said. "I'm afraid it will take a major attack for businesses to wake up. No matter what most companies are publicly saying, very few really take this seriously. It's not a question of if a cyberattack will come, but when."
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