U.S. still vulnerable to cyber attack
By Jim Puzzanghera
Date: May 15, 2003
4 SECURITY AGENCIES URGED BY CONGRESS TO SPEED EFFORTS
More than 20 months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States remains ill-prepared to defend against a strike on the nation's critical computer systems because of slow-moving federal research efforts, members of Congress said Wednesday.
They charged that instead of working at breakneck ``Internet time,'' the four key agencies charged with researching new technologies to combat cyber attacks are stuck in the glacial world of ``government time,'' still crafting memorandums of understanding to allow collaboration on projects.
``We better damn well get serious about this and not just talk, but act,'' said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chair of the House Science Committee, which brought the heads of the four agencies to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify about their efforts. ``The nation quite simply has been under-investing woefully in cyber security R&D, and as a result we lack both the experts and the expertise we ought to have in a world that relies so heavily on computers and networks for the necessities of everyday life.''
While defending their efforts and saying progress was being made, the agency heads acknowledged there is much more work to be done.
``On a daily basis . . . there are opportunities for attack that could be devastating,'' said Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation.
Terrorism experts fear attacks on computer systems that operate electricity grids, phone systems or other critical infrastructure as part of a terrorist strike. The federal government, in conjunction with private industry, has been trying to protect those systems through the use of fire walls and other technology to prevent such attacks or lessen their impact.
The vulnerability of a cyber attack is particularly acute for the U.S. military, which is becoming increasingly dependent on computer networks and information technology, said Tony Tether, the director of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
``While moving to a network-centric warfare has created for us an enormous capability . . . it has also created a tremendous vulnerability,'' Tether told lawmakers. ``The enemy is going to attack our networks in the future. If they are attacked, our whole capability goes down.''
Wednesday's testimony follows the departure of two key White House cyber-security advisers earlier this year. The upheaval has led to concern in the high-tech industry that the Bush administration is not making cyber security a priority in combating terrorism. Full story
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