[ISN] Cracks in the System

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Jun 10 2002 - 03:12:00 PDT

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    Forwarded from: William Knowles <wkat_private>
    Jun. 17, 2002/Vol. 159 No. 24
    Three flights up a scruffy building in central Moscow, a small paper 
    sign pasted on the wall directs visitors to Directorate R of the 
    Moscow police. R stands for nothing: it was just the next code letter 
    available in 1986 when the police decided to set up their own 
    communications-security branch. These days the Directorate's 
    bread-and-butter work is computer and mobile-phone fraud. But their 
    biggest nightmare - and that of their counterparts in Western Europe 
    and the U.S. - is digital attack. "This, unfortunately, is the future 
    face of terrorism," says Dmitri Chepchugov, head of Directorate R. 
    So far, politically motivated computer attacks have been irritations 
    or embarrassments rather than full-blown catastrophes. Chinese hackers 
    attacked some 1,200 sites, including the White House, the Department 
    of Energy and the Air Force, defacing some sites and putting others 
    temporarily out of service, during a standoff with Washington over a 
    spy plane last year. Russians and Eastern Europeans did the same 
    during the war in Kosovo, and Pakistani and Indian hackers are doing 
    it right now. Over a period of several years, U.S. investigators 
    believe hackers - probably from Russia - tunneled into department of 
    Defense sites and illegally downloaded large quantities of technical 
    defense research, all unclassified, according to the Pentagon. The 
    leap from this kind of sporadic hacking to virtual terrorism is only a 
    matter of time, specialists believe. "After every terrorist attack, 
    security is tightened up and improved," Chepchugov remarks. "But these 
    days you don't need to get a truck bomb into, say, a chemical plant or 
    crash a plane into it. All you need is a group of hackers who get into 
    the computerized control system, knock it out, and trigger a 
    Michael Vatis - a former head of the FBI's National Infrastructure 
    Protection Center, the lead U.S. federal agency for computer crime, 
    cyberterrorism and cyberespionage - agrees. "We have seen a clear 
    decision by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to focus on critical 
    infrastructures, financial networks and power grids," says Vatis, now 
    director of the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth 
    College. "And they have developed expertise with computer systems for 
    secure communications and planning attacks. The next step is to put 
    the two together." 
    The likely targets would be a country's power or water supply, gas and 
    oil production or storage facilities, telecommunications or banking 
    networks and transport or emergency services. Attackers could try to 
    disrupt these systems during a conventional assault or, even worse, 
    attempt to trigger a disaster by destroying them outright. Most 
    government and many commercial organizations insulate the sensitive 
    parts of their computer systems from the Internet. But it is harder to 
    protect computerized systems from an inside job. This is what happened 
    a little over two years ago in Russia, in an incident that briefly 
    surfaced in the press and was quickly hushed up. In early 2000, 
    officials say, a disgruntled employee of Gazprom, the oil and natural 
    gas monopoly, helped a group of hackers seize for several hours the 
    corporation's computer systems - including those regulating gas flow 
    through the firm's pipelines. Gazprom subsequently denied press 
    reports of the break-in. And, officials add, the politically powerful 
    corporation was furious when the information was made public. "Heads 
    rolled in the Interior Ministry after the newspaper report came out," 
    says another senior official. But, this person adds, "We were very 
    close to a major natural disaster." 
    Chepchugov says there are some indications that at least one radical 
    fundamentalist is showing interest in computers. The imam of Finsbury 
    Park mosque in north London, Abu Hamza al-Masri (also known as Mustafa 
    Kemal) "has gathered around himself a group of computer specialists," 
    Chepchugov says. "This is indirect proof that Muslim extremists 
    understand the potential of computer-based terrorism." Meanwhile, 
    another Russian specialist in computer crime remarks, "I think our 
    American friends are very interested in the Pakistan Hackerz Club [a 
    pro-Pakistan hacker group]," which they apparently suspect of having 
    contacts with radical groups. Al-Qaeda works like any other criminal 
    group in the world of computers, says Anatoly Platonov of the Interior 
    Ministry's Directorate K, which also deals with cybercrime. "They have 
    the money and are looking for the brains." Sooner or later, 
    specialists believe, they will find them. 
    "Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
    without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
    C4I.org - Computer Security, & Intelligence - http://www.c4i.org
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