With Tuesday’s appointment of Tom Ridge as the first-ever Director of Homeland Security, the government is taking every precaution to prepare the country for an attack on any front, from bio-terrorism to cyber-terrorism.
President Bush also appointed Richard A. Clark as Director of Cyber Security Tuesday to protect the U.S.’s cyber-freeways.
In the weeks since the Sept. 11 attacks, American security has been at an all-time high in anticipation of terrorist retaliation. However, the Internet may be able to withstand an attack.
Experts are not willing to speculate as to the likelihood of a cyber-terrorist attack, but a potential attack on the Internet would not be as severe as some may think. Some campus experts say an attack on the Internet would not have the “shock value” many terrorists look for when planning an attack.
Bill Pollack, media relations director for CERT Centers, an Internet-monitoring firm that works in conjunction with the government to address threats posed by cyber-attacks, insists cyber-attacks have not increased since the Sept. 11 tragedies.
“We wouldn’t speculate on the likelihood of an attack, but we haven’t seen any different activity. There’s no reason to think that the Internet is in any real danger,” Pollack said.
UW Computer Science Assistant Professor Somesh Jha said a cyber-terrorist attack would come in one of two forms.
“There are two things that I can see happening in terms of cyber-terrorism: hacking into sensitive servers to eavesdrop to find classified information, and secondly, denial of service problems,” Jha said.
The government tracks activity on the Internet and reported increased activity from China to the United States in the aftermath of the United States spy plane shot down earlier this year.
UW has its own incident response team, BadgIRT, which tracks and responds to cyber-attacks on campus. BadgIRT has been working with computer security teams around the country, monitoring cyber-activity for terrorist attacks and analyzing trends.
BadgIRT incidence response coordinator Kim Milford agrees with Jha and Pollack regarding the potential for cyber-terrorism.
“I think the likelihood of an [cyber] attack is the same as before the physical attacks of Sept. 11,” Milford said. “With cyber-terrorism you might get more financial damage, but we’ve seen the effectiveness of a physical attack. A cyber-attack would not likely create as much of a visual impact.”
Terrorists are looking to cause the greatest impact and attention possible.
“Most likely, an attack would be on a government website, to deface or hack the site for shock value,” Jha said.
Israel experienced a similar cyber-attack when Palestinian terrorists defaced their consulate’s website.
Jha said financial institutions are not as vulnerable since banks and other financial sites are the most secure sites on the Internet.
A computer “worm” known as NIMDA struck computers in the U.S. Sept. 18, attaching itself to users’ e-mail and infecting other computers, as well as websites. Users who had the NIMDA worm experienced “denial of service” from websites they tried to access. However, Pollack and CERT Centers believe there is no connection between the NIMDA worm and terrorist activities.
BadgIRT reports 15 computers were affected on the UW campus.