[ISN] Cyberattacks leave feds chasing 'vapor'

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Wed Jun 17 1998 - 00:36:40 PDT

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    Cyberattacks leave feds chasing 'vapor'
    BY BOB BREWIN (antennaat_private)
    Top administration officials last week warned that the United States lacks
    the capability to quickly identify the nature and scope of a continuing
    series of cyberattacks against both federal and private systems that
    support the country's telecommunications, financial and energy critical
    During a series of congressional hearings and in speeches last week,
    federal security and information technology officials made it clear that
    they anticipate a powerful ''Achilles' heel'' cyberattack that could
    cripple the nation's vital systems because the government lacks the
    ability to defend against such an attack. 
    John Hamre, deputy secretary of Defense, told the House National Security
    Committee that such a paralyzing cyberattack against critical
    infrastructures is inevitable. "There will be an electronic attack
    sometime in our future," he said. "Should an attack come, it will likely
    not be aimed at just military targets but at civilian [targets] as well."
    Administration officials also reported that the attacks continue unabated. 
    Art Money, who is slated to take over as assistant secretary of Defense
    for command, control, communications and intelligence later this year,
    said in a speech at a conference in Washington, D.C., last week that DOD
    "averages 60 intrusions a week" into its computer systems.  An official of
    the FBI's new National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) said the
    office is investigating a "half dozen" incidents, describing them as
    But security agencies said the process of chasing down and identifying
    attackers is frustrating, as in the case of the highly publicized series
    of hacks against DOD computers last February. The FBI and numerous DOD
    agencies worked together to track down the hackers, but the agencies could
    not "identify [until] the following week"  the source and type of attack,
    Ellie Padgett, deputy chief of the National Security Agency, told the
    Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and
    Government Information. 
    Padgett said it would still take the agency a "matter of days" to
    determine if an attack was strategic or just a teenage prank. 
    Michael Vatis, director of NIPC, told the committee, "In most
    cyberattacks, it's impossible to know the identity of the penetrator," be
    it teenage hackers, criminals or a strategic attack by a hostile nation.
    Vatis, in an interview, likened chasing down hackers to "tracking vapor." 
    Barry Collin, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security and
    Intelligence, said it will become increasingly difficult to identify
    strategic attacks because a nation that is sophisticated enough to mount a
    cyberwar against the United States also will have the sophistication to
    disguise that effort as a hacker attack mounted by teenagers. "They can
    make it appear as if it is a game instead of a real attack," he said. 
    A "Predatory Phase"  
    Also frustrating security experts is the possibility that attacks will be
    carried out in quick hits over a long period of time, Hamre said. "The
    predatory phase could take place over several years, making it hard to
    collate curious, seemingly unrelated events into a coherent picture," he
    said. These long-term attacks "could take place over multiple
    jurisdictions - [for example] power grids or air traffic control nodes in
    various states. Our knowledge of the origin of such attacks and their
    sponsorship is likely to be imprecise."
    Hamre also presented classified testimony to a joint closed hearing of the
    House National Security Committee's Military Procurement and the Military
    Research and Development subcommittees. Hamre may have presented more
    detailed evidence of computer vulnerabilities, based on remarks by Rep.
    Curt Weldon (R.-Pa.), chairman of the Military Research and Development
    Subcommittee, who called Hamre's classified testimony "the most
    provocative briefing" he had ever received during his 12 years in
    The Clinton administration hopes to protect the critical infrastructures
    with recently formed security organizations, including the National
    Infrastructure Assurance Plan, the NSA Network Incident Analysis Cell and
    the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office in the Commerce Department.
    CIAO will spearhead multiple-agency efforts to develop better policies,
    processes, procedures and systems to detect and deter attacks. 
    The administration also plans to heavily involve the private sector -
    banks, power companies and railroad companies - in "public/private
    partnerships'' to protect the infrastructure. 
    Members of Congress on both sides of the Hill praised the administration's
    initial efforts, but they also expressed some skepticism about the
    approach. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she "wondered if the nexus
    between the public and private sectors will work." 
    Rep. Herbert Bateman (R-Va.) said he is "deeply skeptical"  about placing
    the CIAO in Commerce rather than in DOD. 
    Bateman said Commerce's willingness to allow the exportation of critical
    satellite and rocketry information to the Chinese left him "unconvinced"
    that Commerce had the same "sensitivity" as the Pentagon has to the
    requirements of national security. 
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