Government combats cyber terrorism
by Linda Fischer
Date: February 07, 2004
Source: The Waterline
The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) implemented its National Cyber Alert System Dec. 28.
The system is designed to warn computer users of attacks from a growing army of online worms and viruses. Coincidentally, the official launch of the system by their National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) came hot on the heels of the MyDoom worm that clogged e-mail arteries around the globe.
In a further quirk of timing, the system experienced a baptism by fire when MyDoom.B tripped the alert shortly after the press conference wound up.
The National Cyber Alert System is a Government response to the increasingly aggressive legion of worms and viruses marching across the Internet at an unprecedented speed and wreaking havoc on e-mail servers and computer networks.
Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division said, "The development and initial operating capability of the National Cyber Alert System elevates awareness and helps improve America's IT security posture."
Computer security firms estimate that between five and six hundred thousand computers around the world were infected by MyDoom.
While it was at large, the worm was reportedly responsible for ten percent of all emails hitting Inboxes.
As well as putting enormous stress on the Internet's backbone resulting in slow response times, viruses and worms leave huge damage bills and clean-up costs in their wake.
These same culprits can also open a 'back door' in infected computers, which computer security experts warn can be used as entry points by virus writers and hackers who may then launch a cyber raid and steal sensitive personal information that can lead to identity theft.
MyDoom.B, a variant of the original worm MyDoom A, is considered to be even more disruptive than its predecessor and it is making the bold move of targeting MicroSoft's Web site. At the consumer level its impact was felt through its power to block Windows systems from downloading and upgrading antivirus programs leaving computers wide open to infection.
The MyDoom family of is one of the latest additions to a long string of damaging worms and viruses. In 2003 computer networks were plagued by a procession of them. Slammer led the charge and was later followed by BugBear, MSBlaster and Sobig.
As well as snarling e-mail communication they knocked out ATMs, disrupted airline flight schedules and interfered with 911 calls. All signs in cyberspace seem to point to the spawning of new generations of destructive viruses and worms, and the NCSD plans to fight back.
"The National Cyber Security Division's mission is to serve as a focal point for implementing the National Strategy and protecting the American People," said Frank Libutti, under secretary of Homeland Security for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection.
The DHS's cyber security team is an integral part of the government's effort to tackle computer crime and cyber terrorism. They expect the national alert system to act as a hub for distributing information on computer hacking, viruses, worms and other online threats. It also marks the Government's move into territory that was previously dominated by hi-tech corporations and research organizations.
Some commentators have suggested that the new brainchild of the NCSD may tread on the toes of these entrenched members of the computer security industry, as well as software companies, who have an interest in keeping news of flaws affecting operating systems under wraps until they have resolved the problem and are ready to provide a software fix.
The DHS has stated that the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) was set up to create a partnership between the Government and corporations.
"The President's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace provides a framework for the public and private sectors to work together to secure cyberspace," said Frank Libutti.
The DHS is urging Americans to sign up for a free e-mail service that sends alerts to computer users to inform them of existing and emerging threats in the hope of minimizing the impact of cyber attacks and slowing down the spread of viruses.
"We are focused on making the threats and recommended actions easier for all computer users to understand, prioritize and act upon. We recognize the importance and urgency of our mission and are taking action," said Yoran.
For more detailed information on the cyber alert system and to join the list of e-mail recipients, go to http://www.us-cert.gov/index.html . The e-mail alerts come with instructions to help computer users identify viruses and tips to help secure PCs from attack. The National Cyber Alert System offers two options with varying degrees of complexity.
One provides highly technical advice for computer experts and the other is in user-friendly, 'non-tech' language for the 'average' PC user.
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