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[infowar.de] The Web: Terrorists prove elusive
The Web: Terrorists prove elusive
By Gene J. Koprowski
UPI Technology News
Published 10/23/2003 3:47 PM
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This is the third in a series of UPI articles examining the current
state and future prospects of the global communications and data
network known as the Internet.
CHICAGO (UPI) -- Intelligence on the latest major computer contagion,
such as the Blaster virus or the Code Red worm, may spread fairly
swiftly online, but more sophisticated terrorist and subversive
activities on the Internet are not reported too widely -- primarily
for competitive, commercial reasons, experts say.
"Banks don't want you to know that their networks went down," Todd
Fineman, a senior manager in the security and privacy practice of
PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a technology consultancy in New York City,
told United Press International. "Railways don't want you to know that
the trains have stopped running on time."
Companies reported $202 million in losses from computer attacks last
year, according to a joint survey by the Computer Security Institute
in San Francisco and the local office of the FBI. The numbers are
deceptive, though, the survey revealed, because only 47 percent of the
503 organizations surveyed could quantify their financial losses due
to cyber attack.
Most organizations do not know exactly who cracked their computer
systems, whether operatives for al-Qaida, anti-globalization hackers
or other subversives, said Fineman, who consults with Fortune 500
companies on this very problem.
"One thing is certain, though," Richard Miniter, author of "Losing Bin
Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror" (Regnery
Publishing, September 2003), told UPI. "The terrorists like to use our
technologies against us -- whether it is airplanes or the Internet."
Several, high-profile terrorist actions on the World Wide Web in
recent years have gotten the attention of government authorities,
including the following incidents:
-- Terrorists posted instructions online on how to blow up the railway
systems of Deutsche Bahn AG, a German operator.
-- Ethnic Tamil guerillas overwhelmed Sri Lanka's embassies with close
to 1,000 e-mails per day, reading: "We are the Internet Black Tigers
and we're doing this to disrupt your communications."
-- Members of the Palestinian Tanzim group lured Ofir Rachum, a
16-year-old Israeli, to a meeting after courting him in a chat room
posing as an American girl, and killed him.
Computer hacking and murder are not the primary reason terrorists and
subversives use the Internet, however. Like regular people, they, too,
want to communicate. But because of their illicit activities -- which
are tracked constantly by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency --
they try to do so secretly. Using sophisticated software, such as
White Noise Storm and S-Tools, message creators can embed information
digitally in other information, usually in still image files, audio
files or video. The software stores the secret messages using .bmp,
.wav, .au and MP3 files, often by adding extra white space at the end
of images on Web pages or e-mail messages.
"This is called steganography," said Miniter, the author, who has
traveled the world tracking the doings of terrorists for his book.
"There is an art to hiding images in the background of other images.
Our intelligence agencies are becoming adept at detecting this."
The FBI has testified before Congress about terrorist use of
"A commonplace example would be building a Web site with an innocuous
theme -- advertising a grain elevator in Minnesota, perhaps," said
Miniter. "But embedded in the lettering on the site, undetectable to
the human eye, but seen by computers, is a secret message, giving
instructions about a terrorist operation or plan. We know al-Qaida is
using this to hide messages."
One al-Qaida Web site in Tibet was shut down by government
authorities, who learned of the illicit communications there, Miniter
Another way terrorists use the Internet to communicate is through
conventional message boards. They simply go to common public places
online, chat rooms and the like, and post messages using what
intelligence operatives call an "idiot code," said Miniter.
"The cipher for the code is only known to the people using it," said
Miniter. "There is no mathematical relationship between the messages,
as there is in cryptography. Despite the name, this is a sophisticated
method. But the users are forced to memorize hundreds of code words,
or they can't send complicated messages."
A sample idiot code might be as follows: "The package will arrive in
Germany tomorrow," said Miniter. "But the word 'package' really is
code for a bomb. Only the sender of the message and the receiver know
the real meaning."
Government authorities in England and the United States have cracked
down on terrorist communications online, tracking traffic in these
chat rooms and in illicit foreign language Web sites -- in Pashtun, an
Afghani language, and Tagalog, a Philippine tongue -- which are
monitored by intelligence agents, Miniter said.
The USA Patriot Act has provided U.S. authorities with the power to
search and seize computers of suspected terrorists who use chat rooms
and other Internet services. But civil liberties activists say the law
goes too far and, if abused, could pose a threat to the Internet
privacy rights of all Americans.
"ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can make emergency disclosures of
information to the government -- without a warrant," said Abner Mikva,
a former federal judge, former U.S. Congressman and former Clinton
White House Counsel, during remarks at a forum in Chicago on Oct. 18.
"They can learn about all of your communications, without you even
knowing about it, due to the Patriot Act, on a mere claim that it can
be helpful in an intelligence investigation by the government."
Former Clinton White House National Security Advisor Anthony Lake also
spoke at the public forum on the threat of terrorism, which was held
at St. James Episcopal Church, in downtown Chicago, sponsored by
Protestants for the Common Good.
"The War on Terrorism is real -- they consider themselves to be at war
with us," said Lake, now a professor at Georgetown University School
of Foreign Service. "In some ways, we are going to have to
circumscribe our liberties during this war. But we must strike a
balance between the war -- and our liberties."
Mikva, who is now a professor at the University of Chicago School of
Law, said he supports the idea of cracking down on terrorists online,
but is fearful of government overreaching.
"I want to be tough on terrorism," said Mikva. "But I don't want to be
tough on the Constitution."
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