Academy calls for IT research to counter terror

The National Academy of Sciences has recommended creating a Homeland Security Institute to provide scientific and technological guidance to the government for counteracting terrorism.

The academy's National Research Council last week issued a plan detailing IT research needed to help the country defend itself. The report outlined both immediate steps, such as mapping the physical infrastructure of the nation's IT assets, and long-term activities, such as developing computing research plans.

'Computer programs that make it much easier to 'connect the dots' among apparently unrelated fragments of information can improve intelligence gathering,' said Richard D. Klausner, co-chairman of the council's Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism Committee, which compiled the report.

Klausner, executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle, and other panel members unveiled the report at a press conference in Washington. The report, Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, covers numerous phases of counterterrorism and lays out a technology research agenda for many fields, including nuclear and radiological threats, toxic chemicals and explosives, and transportation.
Committee member John L. Hennessy, president of Stanford University, said counterterrorism efforts require refocusing federal IT research.

'Much of the recent development in IT has focused on scaling up the Internet,' he said. 'It hasn't focused on delivering systems that are protected against a determined adversary.'

Hennessy said the nation's computers are particularly vulnerable to attack, especially systems for first responders.

The report calls for improved information and network security, noting that 'IT attacks can amplify the impact of physical attacks and lessen the effectiveness of emergency response.'

The panel identified four high-priority security research areas:
  • Large-system backup and decontamination

  • Methods of developing less buggy code

  • Architecture and design for containment of cyberattacks

  • Automated tools for systems configuration.

The panel said the president's proposed Homeland Security Department would need an undersecretary for technology to coordinate scientific programs and oversee federal research efforts at the Energy and Defense departments and elsewhere in government.

The report is posted at

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