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Cyber attacks a concern

By David Canton
member of Crime-research.org

David Canton Cyber-terrorism is a buzz-word that entails both fear and uncertainty.

The FBI calls cyber-terrorism a "premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs and data which results in violence against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

Some academic sources see it as specifically related to the furtherance of social or political objectives. Others say any act against information mechanisms is cyber-terrorism.

The most extreme concern for combating cyber-terrorism is that through the use of a keyboard, a cyber-terrorist could enact considerable damage to institutional infrastructures.

For instance, some fear a cyber-terrorist could disrupt the communications of major financial entities, thereby causing the economy to collapse.

There also is concern cyber-terrorists could shut down the Internet or substantially interfere with the use of oil, gas, power grids, telecommunications and emergency services.

The concern is that vital systems are subject to the whimsy of a malevolent hacker.

Others, however, respond that these fears are either unwarranted or overstated. For instance, they say many critical systems are based on secured networks not accessible through the Internet.

They say assaults with conventional weapons pose a far more devastating risk than cyber-terrorism, and that cyber-intrusions are more likely to be more nuisance than terror.

Cyber-terrorism experts also say terrorists have other means through which to use computers to forward their objectives. For example, they can employ cyber-space for communication before an attack, and can use computers to provide information that would both aid and magnify the impact of physical attacks.

Terrorists and computer hackers can be a dangerous combination. There are reports that after investigations regarding several hijackings, authorities were led to believe terrorists had gained access to the architectural schematics of the planes through cyber-crime.

Since the outbreak of war in Iraq, Web-based attacks have increased. The main groups from which such attacks are feared are U. S.-based patriot hackers, Islamic extremists and antiwar protesters.

There have been instances where hackers have marred Web sites with digital graffiti and slogans, or attempted to advance their message by spreading computer viruses or worms.

Although these cyber-attacks can be disturbing, many experts advise to maintain perspective and not exaggerate the impact or magnitude of the attacks. E-mails and slogans are a far cry from penetrating sensitive infrastructures.

A more immediate issue is how to avoid such attacks. Businesses must properly use firewalls and have adequate security.

Experts advise businesses to consider:

- Isolate intra-company networks from the Internet.
- Encrypt sensitive data.
- Conduct a third-party security evaluation.
- Investigate any software flaws, shortcuts or coding errors.
- Maintain a plan for disaster recovery and off-site backups of sensitive data.
- Ensure servers are properly configured and patches are current.
- Ensure systems can lock out uninvited third-parties.

Source: www.canoe.ca

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