[Paleopsych] NYT: Editorial: Virtually Unprotected

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Fri Jun 3 19:35:09 UTC 2005

Virtually Unprotected
New York Times, 5.6.2

    When the East Coast and Midwest were hit by a blackout in 2003, the
    first fear of many people was that terrorists had attacked the
    electricity grid. It turned out not to have been terrorism, but the
    fears were well founded. Experts have long warned that the nation's
    power, transportation and communications systems are vulnerable to
    "cyberattacks" that could devastate the economy and cause huge damage
    to life and property. Now a new government report has concluded that
    far too little is being done to close these gaps.

    After Sept. 11, 2001, a group of leading scientists sent a stern
    warning to President Bush about the danger of a computer-based
    terrorist attack on the nation's infrastructure. They called for the
    creation of a major Cyber-Warfare Defense Project, modeled on the
    Manhattan Project, to prevent, detect and respond to potential
    attacks. "Fast and resolute mitigating action is needed to avoid
    national disaster," the scientists warned.

    Power grids, water treatment and distribution systems, major dams, and
    oil and chemical refineries are all controlled today by networked
    computers. Computers make the nation's infrastructure far more
    efficient, but they also make it more vulnerable. A well-planned
    cyberattack could black out large parts of the country, cut off water
    supplies or worse. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that in
    2003 a malicious, invasive program called the Slammer worm infected
    the computer network at a nuclear power plant and disabled its safety
    monitoring system for nearly five hours.

    Despite the warnings after 9/11 - and again after the 2003 blackout -
    disturbingly little has been done. The Government Accountability
    Office did a rigorous review of the Department of Homeland Security's
    progress on every aspect of computer security, and its findings are
    not reassuring. It found that the department has not yet developed
    assessments of the threat of a cyberattack or of how vulnerable major
    computer systems are to such an attack, nor has it created plans for
    recovering key Internet functions in case of an attack. The report
    also expressed concern that many of the department's senior
    cybersecurity officials have left in the past year. Representative Zoe
    Lofgren, the California Democrat who was among those who requested the
    G.A.O. report, said last week that it proved that "a national plan to
    secure our cybernetworks is virtually nonexistent."

    Protecting the nation from a potentially devastating cyberattack is
    not easy. The technological challenges are considerable - even major
    technology companies have trouble defending themselves against
    hackers. The number of potential targets is enormous. And because many
    of the targets are in private hands, the Department of Homeland
    Security has to work with entities that may be reluctant to follow the
    government's lead.

    But overcoming these obstacles should be a high priority. One of the
    lessons of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington was how
    much damage a few men with simple weapons, like box cutters, could do
    if they targeted a point of maximum vulnerability. In a well-planned
    cyberattack, a single terrorist with nothing more than a computer and
    Internet access could do an extraordinary amount of harm from half a
    world away.

    An Insecure Nation: Editorials in this series remain online at

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