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Expert Warns of Cyberthreats

(by Paul Roberts)

We shouldn't be complacent about cybersecurity

The United States is in danger of becoming complacent about the threats posed by international terrorism and should step up its funding of antiterrorism measures for both physical and cyber realms, according to former Clinton national security advisor Samuel (Sandy) Berger.

Speaking to reporters at the RSA Conference here this week, Berger said that the attacks of September 11, 2001, changed the way the United States viewed the world, showing the American people how vulnerable their country was.

"We're not going back to the blissful period [before September 11, 2001] where we thought we were invulnerable," Berger said.

Making Progress

Speaking of the federal government's efforts to secure the nation since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Berger said that more progress has been made in the realm of cybersecurity than in other areas, picking up on efforts that began during the Clinton administration.

"I think the effort on cybersecurity strategy is some of the best work that's been done on homeland security, and that's because there was continuity from the late 1990s with [former Bush Special Advisor for Cyberspace Security] Richard Clarke. We started with something to build on, and we've made significant progress since then."

Berger cited the increased importance of public-private Information Sharing and Analysis Centers as an example of initiatives begun during the Clinton administration that have gained traction since the September 11 attacks.

Striking a Balance

The Bush administration's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace struck an appropriate balance on the difficult issues involved in requiring companies to improve their IT security, he said.

"Like all areas of critical infrastructure, there has to be a close relationship between the private sector and the government. There's not one regulatory model that's suitable," Berger said.

Despite progress in some areas, however, the country has become complacent about the threats posed by international terrorism, Berger said.

"We were lucky that there were no attacks coincident with the war in Iraq," Berger said.

As a result of the war in Afghanistan and the apprehension of senior Al Qaeda leaders following it, the United States and its allies have seriously disrupted the terrorist network, hampering its ability to plan and coordinate large attacks, Berger said.

Potential Threats

Nevertheless, that disruption does not diminish the long-term threats posed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, Berger said.

"We busted up the beehive, but we haven't killed all the bees. They can still plot and plan, and we should operate on the assumption that we're not going back to a terror-free country," Berger said.

Berger rejected the suggestion that the absence of coordinated cyberattacks means that international terrorists are incapable of attacking the United States' information infrastructure.

While cyberterrorism has not been a weapon in Al Qaeda's arsenal, smaller anti-American groups may well be capable of launching such attacks, he said.

"Cyberattacks have to be considered part of the terrorist arsenal, even though there's no evidence that major terrorist groups have used it," Berger said.

Money Matters

Congress should immediately free up funds to pay for cybersecurity and other aspects of homeland defense, according to Berger.

"So far, we've spent a lot of money and time on bureaucratic reorganization^; but requests for money, including those for cybersecurity, are still moving at a snail's pace. It's important for Congress to put its money where its mouth is," he said.

Once funds are available, the country can address pressing problems such as border security while laying the groundwork for larger IT infrastructure changes that will be needed to support domestic security, according to Berger.

In the long run, however, the United States and its allies must address larger problems such as the growing income and technology gaps between rich and poor nations.

"We're not safe in a world that is bitterly divided--when half the world is not connected to the global economy. Those nations will fall further and further behind and become more disconnected and more desperate," he said.

In order to secure its long-term security, the United States will have to reach out to nations in need.

"9/11 told us that Manhattan is not an island. We can't pull up the drawbridge and hide behind walls," Berger said.

Source: www.pcworld.com

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