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Experts warn of combo terrorist assault, cyber attack


WASHINGTON (AP) --Computer experts want Congress to imagine a terrorist assault that 
combines the massive destruction of September 11 with a simultaneous cyber-attack.

In testimony prepared for a House hearing Wednesday, a witness raised chilling "what 
if" scenarios as experts called for a crash research effort to protect critical 
computer systems.

"What if the terrorists were also able to impact our communications system, thus 
hampering the rescue and recovery efforts?" asked Terry Benzel, a vice president of 
Network Associates Inc. in Santa Clara, California. "What if the attackers were able 
to compromise systems monitoring the water supply for Manhattan? What if power to 
parts of the northeast corridor could have been brought down through a cyber-attack on 
key systems? We must prepare now to prevent this from happening."

The chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-New York, said 
that while computer networks are vulnerable to criminal and terrorist attacks, 
research and development on computer security has not kept pace with the threat.

"To put it simply, we need more people to be doing more creative thinking about 
computer security. That's what our adversaries are doing," Boehlert said.

Computer networks now are critical to electric power, natural gas, petroleum 
production and distribution, telecommunications, transportation, water supplies, 
banking and finance and emergency services.

A science committee background paper said many experts believe only 45 to 75 
researchers in the nation have the experience to conduct cutting-edge research in 
computer security.

Benzel, whose company is a leading supplier of network security, said the most 
alarming scenario is a combined physical and cyber attack that brings "cascading 
disruptions on a regional, national or international scale."

An attack on the air traffic control network could reduce the ability to track 
off-course airplanes. A chemical weapons attack could be combined with an assault on 
computerized water supply control systems, Benzel said.

Benzel proposed unprecedented sharing of computer security information between 
industry and government.

She suggested that the new Homeland Security office, headed by former Pennsylvania 
Gov. Tom Ridge, make computer security part of the nation's defense against terrorism.

Federal agencies also need adequate funds to research new ways to protect critical 
computer networks, she said.

Dr. Eugene Spafford, professor of computer sciences at Purdue University, said 
computer systems were designed for speed or price, with little concern for security.

"Security cannot be easily or adequately added on after-the-fact and this greatly 
complicates our overall mission," he said. "The software and hardware being deployed 
today has been designed by individuals with little or no security training, using 
unsafe methods, and then poorly tested."

http://www.cnn.com/2001/TECH/internet/10/10/cyber.security.ap/index.html

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