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[infowar.de] LAT-Artikel: Terrorists Are Winnig the Cyber War
Ein Artikel aus der Los Angeles Times. Man positioniert sich neu in der
The Terrorists Are Winning the Cyber War
Technology: Despite U.S. spy shops' spending and resources, adversaries
plague them at will
with computers and Internet.
By CHARLES PILLER and DAVE WILSON
TIMES STAFF WRITERS
September 19 2001
In the Internet Age, when communications speed across national
boundaries in nanoseconds, terrorist groups are winning the cyberspace
battle, say intelligence and
Terrorists hide their communications with encryption software. They set
up Web sites to help raise money for their operations. Computer hackers
break into U.S.
government networks to research possible targets.
Meanwhile, federal agencies that have spent billions on computer
surveillance of terrorists and the nations that harbor them continue to
struggle both with outdated
technology and a flood of data to process. Last week, former President
George Bush criticized the nation's intelligence agencies for focusing
too heavily on high-tech
operations, rather than developing human spies in foreign terrorist
One problem is that America's intelligence agencies are frozen in time,
said Jeffrey Hunker, until recently a member of the National Security
Council. The National
Security Agency, the largest and most secretive spy shop, vividly
demonstrates the problem, Hunker and other experts say.
The NSA operates spy satellites and gathers information from radio,
microwave, television, telephone and Internet signals outside the United
States. Despite a
history of technical prowess that allowed it to crack secret codes of
dozens of nations, the NSA is falling behind America's adversaries,
experts say. The NSA "is far
more . . . resistant to change than most" agencies because of internal
power struggles, said Stewart Baker, the NSA's general counsel from 1992
Now the agency says it is spending billions of dollars to update aging
computer networks and cryptographic tools. But experts say the NSA's
sheer bulk and
bureaucracy raise questions about its ability to keep up with
technology's breakneck pace.
For three days last year the NSA's entire computer system went down
because of antiquated, overloaded software linking its vast array of
devices and satellites. Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, NSA's director, said
the agency went "brain dead." Fortunately for national security, the NSA
kept the shutdown
secret until the networks were up and running again.
Another problem is that lifetime employment at the agency and relatively
low pay discourage technologically savvy workers from joining, Baker
said. The NSA's
budget has also been slashed--perhaps by one-third--over the past
decade. Managers have responded by attempting to preserve existing jobs,
which led to hiring
freezes and delays in purchasing new equipment. "Their budgets have
tended to preserve people over research and technology," Baker said.
As a result, the NSA has lagged behind trends that have remade
intelligence gathering, including:
* Fiber optics: Increasingly, data and voice communication, from phone
calls routed over the Internet to computer networking transmissions,
flow on beams of light
along fiber-optic cables. Unlike eavesdropping on conventional copper
phone lines or microwave towers, these glass fiber lines must be
physically tapped to collect
* Software encryption: This coding renders computer text messages
virtually unreadable, except by the intended recipient. It is widely
available on the Internet.
The FBI says that Osama bin Laden--accused mastermind of the attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon--and other terrorist groups
Last week, some politicians called for a ban on strong encryption. Too
late, said Tim Belcher, chief technology officer of Riptech, a security
firm in Alexandria, Va.
"Banning strong encryption would prove as ineffective as shutting down
Napster," he said.
* Internet support: Terrorists have become so confident that they
sponsor Web sites to solicit funds from supporters worldwide. Two such
Pakistan-based Harkat Ul Moujahedeen and Lebanon's Hezbollah, have been
linked to Bin Laden.
* Information overload: Each day the NSA reportedly captures a greater
volume of data than is held by the Library of Congress. The FBI has
attempted a similarly
ambitious program, code named Carnivore, to collect communications
traffic over Internet service provider networks. But intelligence
agencies have trouble
interpreting this flood of information. "There aren't enough human
beings to look at the data," said Bruce Schneier, chief technology
officer of Counterpane Internet
Security, a security consulting company in San Jose.
Despite these problems, there have been some victories against
terrorism. Hunker credits U.S. spy agencies with thwarting planned
terrorist actions, which he
numbered "in double digits" over the last decade. But he concedes that
last week's tragedy represents a staggering intelligence failure.
Some politicians have questioned whether laws designed to protect civil
liberties--which also inhibit investigators from aggressively pursuing
be changed. For example, agencies with the most technology resources,
the CIA and the NSA, are prohibited from nearly all domestic spying.
"When the rules were enacted, that was pre fax machine," Baker said.
"International communications all occurred on [conventional phone]
circuits and you knew
where they started and where they ended. . . . We don't live in that
The Bush administration is asking for expanded powers and is adding
funds to track down terrorism suspects.
Some FBI antiterrorism agents have strong technology skills, but the
bureau has only about 200 tech specialists, who must handle the full
spectrum of cyber crime.
But resources alone are not the answer, experts say. "People think all
we need to do is pour $40 billion into counterterrorism and this problem
will be solved.
Wrong," said Hunker, dean of the Heinz School of Public Policy
Management at Carnegie Mellon University.
Some say that better cooperation between law enforcement and the private
sector, or within government agencies, would help more than increased
surveillance or fatter budgets.
For Tom Talleur, that point became painfully clear in 1998, when
computer hackers tapped into a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory computer
in Pasadena and
accessed data about the commercial air traffic system.
"The FAA had to shut down communications for several live flights going
on at the time," said Talleur, then chief of NASA's cyber-crime unit.
This intelligence could have told hackers the configuration of GPS
navigation satellites and allowed them to jam the system during a war,
The hackers were also searching for information on Stealth
aircraft--where the planes were located and how they operated in
difficult weather situations--Talleur
added. "Why break into a classified [Defense Department] system when
there is an unclassified system at another agency [with] 60%" of the
same material? he
JPL declined to comment.
Talleur worked for the NASA inspector general's office. But because NASA
officials did not understand the implications of the hack, they refused
to allow him to
install an "intercept box"--needed to track the hackers immediately,
"By the time they let us do that, a week later, the intruders were long
gone," he said. Talleur eventually traced the hackers to computers in
the Persian Gulf area.
The episode was extreme but is hardly isolated.
The Defense Department acknowledges hundreds of successful cyber attacks
on its networks in recent years. The networks of most public agencies
are replete with
such security holes, experts say.
"Most of the hacks we've seen have been the equivalent of breaking and
entering," causing limited damage, said Brian Dunphy, who left the
network security unit last year to work for Riptech.
No computer hacker has yet shut down an electrical grid or opened a dam.
"But our nation's critical infrastructure is both connected to public
networks and vulnerable," he added. "It's open to terrorists, operating
from anywhere in the world,
with the motivation and skills to wreck havoc."
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