Cyberterrorism in Today's World
By John Adler
Date: July 04, 2003
Since the September 11th tragedy, security has been foremost in the consciousness of pundits, politicians, and everyday citizens. The focus on it has only increased since the war on Iraq. By now we’re all familiar with things like Homeland Security and the terror alert system, and we’re hopefully schooling ourselves about what to do in a security emergency. But despite these efforts, an emerging security threat has arisen. The maturing of the Internet into a communications, business, and recreational tool nearly as ubiquitous and indispensable as the telephone has created a new set of concerns.
An emerging class of terrorists -- cyberterrorists -- may be aggregating their resources and preparing to launch attacks to cripple the computer networks of American companies, organizations, and governments, hampering business operations and costing untold amounts to correct.
What does this worst-case scenario mean to individual citizens? Not much^; the people in charge are on the case. Thanks to the century-plus legacy of secure telephony networks, the government is well prepared to keep data networks as secure as possible. The telephone networks’100-year monopoly created not only a high degree and expectation of fault tolerance, but a climate in which it’s easy to justify spending whatever is necessary to keep the networks running in an emergency. To wit, Verizon had a call center in the Twin Towers that was so robust that only the immediate local area was affected after the September 11th attacks, so it’s unlikely that a cyberterrorist could do more than temporary damage to a very large data network.
Still, after September 11th, security shot to the top of the list of information technology managers’ concerns. The biggest threats to individual company networks remains disgruntled employees or former employees and miscellaneous thrill-seeking hackers. To combat these foes, companies are arming themselves with filters, firewalls, and other assorted security technologies designed to fit the nuances of whatever business they’re in. These tools don’t protect every corner of every network from every possible type of attack, but they’re starting to coalesce in such a way that makes it possible to stay one step ahead of would-be assailants. Companies and organizations, often aided by security technology developers, also are getting better at communicating with partners and customers, sharing information about new viruses and new defensive technologies. Many companies now employ former hackers, paying them to probe their networks for weaknesses. These combined activities have begun to institutionalize the way industry and the government respond to threats of cyberterrorism. But it doesn’t mean that the networks are completely invulnerable to some kind of infiltration. As the Internet’s use for commerce has broadened, it has become a more attractive target for well-funded organized crime groups and, in the future, for possible terrorists.
But a bigger concern to the average consumer, especially with the advent of broadband networks that run over DSL and cable modems, is how to protect themselves from attacks. An organized band of cyberterrorists is unlikely to break into John Q. Public’s home computer, but there are plenty of evildoers who would love to steal his identity or wreak havoc on his credit rating. Most people have enough information on their computers to enable a hacker to turn their financial lives upside down if they’re unfortunate enough to get targeted.
The security industry is beginning to come to grips with how to make their technology simple enough that people familiar with computers can fairly easily understand how to install and use security tools. But it’s still not simple enough. The spread of PCs and broadband networks means there’s an increase in the number of less-skilled users who know little more about computers than where the “on” button is. Our biggest corporate and governmental networks, while still threatened, have never been more secure. But there’s still much work to be done by the security industry to streamline its offerings and by individuals to educate themselves to ensure that this increasingly complex world stays as safe as possible.
Original article: http://www.e-insite.net/electronicnews/index.asp?layout=article&articleId=CA309170&stt=000
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