Study warns of acute risk to federal infrastructure

The Clinton administration’s efforts to protect the nation’s critical systems
infrastructure is unlikely to keep the country from averting an “electronic
Waterloo,” a Washington think tank recently warned.


In its new report, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said there are
“info-guerrillas intent on doing major damage to the citadel of capitalism, and
cybergeniuses in their late teens and early 20s are the new frontline fighters, arguably
more important to the nation’s defense than the men and women who fought the
country’s wars in the past.”


The report, Cybercrime ... Cyberterror-ism ... CyberWarfare ... , offers a stark
picture of the potential dangers and suggests the United States has not confronted weapons
it describes as so capable of altering warfare since the advent of the atomic age in 1945.


“No enemy can match the U.S. military, as demonstrated in the Gulf War.
Cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare thus became a plausible alternative,” the report
said. “They are no longer the stuff of science fiction.”


The Pentagon estimates that a coordinated attack by fewer than 20 computer experts
strategically located around the world and operating with a budget of less than $10
million “could bring the United States to its knees.”


The government’s defenses against such cyberattacks are inadequate, the report
said.


The center concluded that the administration’s protection plans do not go far
enough and said the findings of the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure
Protection “identified only the tip of a very large iceberg.”


As other observers have suggested, the report said success depends on the federal
government working in tandem with the private sector on security initiatives.


“A national protection plan cannot be accomplished without private and public
partnerships because many of the key targets for cyberattack—power and
telecommunications grids, financial flows, transportation systems—are in private
hands,” the report said.


Corporations, however, have continued to voice the concern that data shared with the
government might become public and erode the public’s trust in industry. “I
think that’s a very well-founded concern,” said David V. Keyes, senior manager
for KPMG Peat Marwick of New York.


Companies have concerns about what the government is going to do with the information,
how it will protect the data, said Keyes, the former director of the presidential
infrastructure commission. There are also questions about whether the data will be
accessible through Freedom of Information Act requests and whether proprietary information
will be protected from competitors, he said.


Jeffrey Hunker, director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, acknowledged
that working with the private sector will be one of the most significant challenges.


The first step is to develop procedures by which authorities can notify the private
sector of risks. The effort will generate trust and make companies more comfortable with
passing information on to law enforcement officials, Hunker said.  



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