Nation unprepared for cyber war, experts say

The United States is unprepared to defend itself against a serious cyber attack, according to a senior official at the National Security Agency. Speaking Tuesday at a homeland security conference in Washington sponsored by Market*Access International Inc., Michael Jacobs, the NSA's director of information assurance, painted a grim picture of a nation made increasingly vulnerable by its reliance on high technology. "If we experienced a serious cyber-based attack, could we figure out who did it and recover from it? The answer is no." Jacobs said. "Is the federal government properly organized for this? The answer is no." Martha Stansell-Gamm, chief of the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property division, said the cyber threat is a "huge interdisciplinary and multifaceted problem." Agencies spread among the law enforcement, intelligence and defense communities do not work together very well when it comes to fighting cybercrime and protecting the nation's cyber borders, she said. Yonah Alexander, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, an Arlington, Va. think tank, said the threat of cyber terrorism is very real. "Many people feel terrorists are not going to utilize the cyber weapon," he said, but "terrorists will use whatever tools they can in order to achieve their goals. Cyber more than any other weapon is the great equalizer. At the press of a button [terrorists] can actually destroy systems. To be cyber terrorists, they don't need training camps. They can be operating in a basement 6,000 miles away." Iraq has quietly been developing a cyber arsenal called Iraq Net since the mid-1990s. Alexander said it consists of a series of more than 100 Web sites located in domains throughout the world. Iraq Net, he said, is designed to overwhelm cyber-based infrastructures by distributed denial of service and other cyber attacks. "Saddam Hussein would not hesitate to use the cyber tool he has," Alexander said. "It is not a question of if but when. The entire United States is the front line." Alexander predicted that under an Iraqi attack on the nation's critical infrastructure, telephone systems would crash, freight and passenger trains would collide, oil refineries would explode, the air traffic control system would be undermined and cities would suffer from blackouts. "National security includes more than just those things that are classified in nature," NSA's Jacobs said. "National security must now include systems which support the nation's [critical infrastructures]."
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