Center takes on cyberterrorism

The nonprofit Institute for Security and Defense this month opened a technology center to work with federal agencies to help them defend against the growing threat from cyberterrorists.

The Center for Technology and Terrorism Studies, based in Los Angeles, will train employees from the Defense Department, the Treasury Department and other agencies about the potential vulnerabilities in their computer systems that cyberterrorists could exploit. The center also will study new and emerging technologies that have been deployed within federal information systems to find other vulnerabilities that terrorist organizations could take advantage of, said Barry Collin, director of the new center.

The Institute for Security and Defense has been working closely with DOD since 1995 to raise information security awareness, and now the federal government— with the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and other critical infrastructure protection efforts— has formed several groups to respond to emerging security issues. Collin said the new center wants to begin studying technology and how it may be used against U.S. government systems.

"We are seeing extremist organizations increasingly looking at technology to commit acts of terrorism," Collin said. "They are recruiting and training very technologically savvy people into their folds. There will always be pipe bombs...but we're seeing people say, 'Isn't it better to perform this from the other side of the world?' We are— the U.S. government— the best target because we're dependent on the most systems."

George Tenet, director of the CIA, warned Congress in June that several foreign governments are developing information warfare programs and that terrorist groups are watching how the United States responds to hacker attacks on government systems in order to plan their own cyberattacks. So far the evidence indicates only one instance of an active, state-sponsored cyberattack on a U.S. government computer system, Tenet said. He did not elaborate on the attack.

Collin, who coined the term "cyberterrorism," noted that while many agencies may not see themselves as targets, several others are moving actively to protect themselves from the potential threats from cyberterrorists. For example, within Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service is a very visible target to potential cyberterrorist groups. The IRS is moving to ramp up its training programs to address this problem, Collin said. Other agencies concerned with cyberterrorist threats include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Secret Service.

Don Hagerling, the security program manager at Treasury, said department officials are working on a plan that details how the department will deal with cyberterrorism and other threats to its critical infrastructure. Next week, the department will submit the plan to the president, as required by a May presidential decision directive on critical infrastructure protection.

Treasury's plan calls for an increased emphasis on training and education as well as ways to reduce threats. Such efforts could include a public-key infrastructure and other advanced security technology.

Jeffrey Johnson, national director of services at Internet Security Systems Inc., an Atlanta-based company that recently began the first coordinated study of cyberattack threats to the nation's critical infrastructures, said the center's work to study the potential threats from terrorist groups is sorely needed because intelligence data indicates that "fairly serious things are being planned."

While DOD has modeled the havoc an attack could create, no organization presents threat data to DOD officials, Johnson said.

"If you don't have somebody out there correlating the intelligence with actual threat data, you still are missing that last piece," he said.

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