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Phone, Power, Computers Vulnerable, Expert Says

By Bob Matuszak (Associated Press Writer)
Date: October 21, 2003

Cyber terrorism The nation's phone system, power grid and computer networks remain vulnerable to a large-scale terrorist attack, a security expert warned Monday.

"We are a hyperpower and have the largest infrastructure in an open society. We have the most to lose," said Dr. Sujeet Shenoi of the University of Tulsa's Center of Information Security during a conference on Homeland Security in this Buffalo suburb.

Computer hackers, organized crime and hostile governments are the common enemies that could mount a severe strike against the country's electronic infrastructure, Shenoi said.

He also warned that an assault on federal, state and local government computer systems would be the most devastating.

"That should be our biggest fear, infecting the fabric that ties society together," said Shenoi, who met last week in Washington with the National Security Council.

Shenoi said a major investment is needed to protect the hardware and software of the nation's telephone system, which is highly vulnerable to attack.

"It's possible for a person in a cave in Afghanistan to hack into our computers," he said. "But they just don't have the knowledge _ yet."

Hosted by the Erie County Local Emergency Planning Committee, the two-day conference featured speakers from across the country who gave presentations on issues such as bioterrorism, cyberterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, sports arenas as targets, and protecting local water systems, roads, bridges and other critical services.

"If you do the same thing the same way every day, the bad guys are going to be watching," said Bernard Tolbert, vice president of security for the National Basketball Association. "Once they're comfortable in what you do they will strike."

"I've encouraged all arenas to do different things," said Tolbert. "If you allow bags in, for instance, you need to search them thoroughly. A small amount of explosives in a small bag can do a lot of damage."

The conference, which continues Tuesday, was attended by 350 people including firefighters, police officers, security agents and emergency medical technicians.

"Any training that you can do to get responders to come together can be beneficial," said attendee Lee Nadler from the Erie County Health Dept. "This is a great idea."

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