Professors hash out emergency response, cyberterrorism strategies

Although the potential for cyberterrorism continues to grow, terrorist groups now use the Internet more to distribute information about attacks rather than to carry them out, Georgetown University information security expert Dorothy E. Denning told a crisis management group yesterday.

Although the potential for cyberterrorism continues to grow, terrorist groups now use the Internet more to distribute information about attacks rather than to carry them out, Georgetown University information security expert Dorothy E. Denning told a crisis management group yesterday.

'As of right now, all the news is bad news' about cyberterrorism, said Denning, director of the Georgetown Institute for Information Assurance. She spoke at a meeting of the Multi-Sector Crisis Management Consortium, an organization of agencies and private-sector companies studying emergency response technologies and techniques.

Terrorists use the Internet to send e-mail and book airline tickets, and many groups have Web sites, Denning said. Some groups reportedly use steganography, a method of hiding secret messages in other messages or image files, she said.

The threat of cyberterrorism is growing. MessageLabs Inc. of Minneapolis, a managed services provider, predicts that half of all e-mails will be infected by a virus by the year 2013.

Two years ago, the Naval Postgraduate School studied the potential for terrorist organizations to pursue cyberterrorism, defined in the study as unlawful destruction or disruption of digital property to intimidate or coerce people. The 1999 study concluded that barriers exist to thwart anything beyond annoyance hacks, and that religious extremists were most likely to pursue sophisticated tools for coordinated attacks to cause mass disruption, Denning said.

Attackers are developing so-called flash worms that could infect all vulnerable hosts on a network in as little as 30 seconds, Denning said.

Cyberprotests often accompany regional and global conflicts, she said. Over the Internet, it's relatively easy to assemble a large group of anonymous sympathizers willing to participate in denial-of-service attacks and Web defacements.

Denning showed many screenshots of Web defacements carried out by supporters and opponents of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Such defacements are attractive to hackers because of their potentially wide visibility and low risk of arrest or physical harm, she said.

Also at the meeting, the head of a University of Maryland team demonstrated a trial run of an off-the-shelf incident-response kit that the group assembled in five weeks.

Ashok K. Agrawala, a University of Maryland computer science professor who heads the school's Maryland Information and Network Dynamics (MIND) Lab, said that creating the crisis-response kit called Draco was prompted by a tornado that hit the university Sept. 24 as well as the events of Sept. 11.

Draco contains Compaq iPaq handheld PCs equipped with wireless cards conforming to the IEEE 802.11b standard, as well as a pen computer from Fujitsu Labs of America Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

The handhelds and pen PCs connect to a wireless access point from Linksys Group Inc. of Irvine, Calif. The entire group connects to the Internet through a 155-Mbps Optical Wireless Link from LumenLink Corp. of Rockville, Md.

Agrawala and his students developed Rover, software that lets users of the handhelds tap a spot on a map to find out where their colleagues are and to communicate with them.

The equipment, including commercially available batteries and solar panels, fits into a plastic carrying bin. The lab's goal was to make the system deployable in 30 minutes or less, but Agrawala said it took less than 10 minutes to set up in an on-campus test.

Although team members were pleased with the Nov. 29 test results, Agrawala said there are still many development problems, such as improving the localization accuracy to within one foot, integrating multiple types of sensors, and improving the human-computer interface.

Denning and Agrawala spoke at the Alliance Center for Collaboration, Education, Science and Software in Arlington, Va., but about a dozen audience members participated through the National Computational Science Alliance's high-speed grid from remote locations that included the universities of Illinois and Maine and NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

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