http://www.globetechnology.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20051228.gtkirwandec28/BNStory/Technology/ By MARY KIRWAN December 28, 2005 Special to Globe and Mail Update What dreadful images were seared into our collective imagination in 2005, as terrorists continued to ply their villainous trade, and destroy innocent lives. What will remain with me will be the pictures of the smouldering wreckage of a topless London double-decker bus, and the certain knowledge that Dante's Inferno was raging deep beneath the streets of London. And who can forget the image of the young female barrister emerging from the carnage, her face covered in an eerie white gauze? And the equally tragic aftermath, as an innocent UK immigrant is shot to death on a commuter train in a badly- botched police surveillance operation. Even more recently, fear claimed another victim, as U.S. plain-clothes police killed a mentally ill airline passenger in Miami who claimed to have a bomb. After 911, numerous anti-terrorism laws were passed around the world, in a vain attempt to get a grip on the war on terror. But when the enemy is face-less, and does not seek to satisfy any discernible objective- except to wreak carnage on a global scale - it is far harder to root him out. Civil libertarians believe we have done great harm in the process to our way of life, and that we are no safer as a result. But are we safer? We are told that since 911, we are far safer when we travel thanks to technological and operational changes. Yet cargo goes unchecked, and investigative journalists and security "experts" around the world routinely bypass airport security, smuggle weapons, and wander about secure zones, un-challenged by airport personnel. It would almost be funny, if it weren't so terrifying. The Final Report on the 9/11 Commission Recommendations released this month, graded the U.S. Transportation system with an 'F'. finding that "few improvements have been made to the existing passenger screening system since right after 9/11." The Commission found that checked bag and cargo screening improvements "have not been made a priority by the Congress or the administration," and that "progress on implementation of in-line screening has been slow" - due to "inadequate funding." Yet money, as I wrote in my last column, is being thrown about - with gay abandon by governments acting like drunken sailors - on all manner of ill- considered IT projects that are probably doomed from the outset. Meanwhile, common-sense initiatives with discernible security benefits are starved of funding. The role of technology And if you scratch the surface, you will find technology implicated somewhere along the way. As everything is digitized, and the Net infiltrates every nook and cranny of our lives, there are sure to be consequences. Meanwhile, security experts around the world are bickering about whether the threat of cyber-terrorism is real. FBI assistant director Louis M. Reigel recently stated that a cyber.terrorism capability simply doesn't exist today. In the same breath, he admitted that the third version of the Sober worm spread so quickly that it almost took out the FBI's computer systems entirely before a fix was found. I fear that we need to spend more time thinking out of the box, rather than wasting time discounting the threat of cyber-terror and nit picking. Terrorists are clearly aware that technology can augment and support their operations. It surely does not have to be all or nothing, as blended threats to critical infrastructure sectors, in particular, remain very real. In Australia, for example, the Ten News Network recently reported that a bomb threat was received by Delta Electricity in New South Wales. The utility was extorted to pay an un-disclosed amount, or face the consequences. The threat was reported to have been made against one of the four plants they operate in the state. It was taken very seriously by Delta and law-enforcement, and security at the plants was reportedly "upgraded." There is nothing new about criminals combining extortion with old-fashioned terror tactics, but if you add targeted viruses and sophisticated malware to the mix . things that have the potential to cause widespread havoc, and expose highly sensitive data . you have a very potent brew indeed. By way of example, the codes required to enter secure areas at 16 Japanese airports and one in Guam recently appeared on the Internet. A virus infected a computer belonging to a Japan Airlines co-pilot, and his computer leaked these highly sensitive details onto the Web. Although JAL has regulations prohibiting the downloading of sensitive information to personal computers, reports indicate that the airport codes were "too widely known" among "aircrews, ground staff, maintenance workers, cleaners and other airport staff" to be considered off-limits. And that was seemingly an 'innocent' error. Imagine a targeted attack. Failure of imagination As kids we are told to 'let our imaginations run wild,' but life has a way of kicking us back to earth with a resounding bang. Who has time for imagination? However, a failure of imagination can have all kinds of undesirable and unpredictable consequences. It can even get people killed. And it surely facilitates crime, as we stay perennially one step behind the bad guys. The 911 Commission attributed much of the failure to predict and counter the threat from extremists to such a failure of imagination. Intelligence analysts had predicted that terrorists might hijack planes to fly them into targets, but it was assumed the planes would come from outside the U.S. and that there would be ample time to shoot them down. The Commission also found that there was an inordinate emphasis on old, rather than evolving threats. In essence, we simply forgot to expect the unexpected. But career criminals and terrorists are not constrained by morality or lack of imagination. They will use whatever tools are at their deposal to achieve their goals, including the Internet and complex technology. Columbian drug cartels and organized crime are old hands at using technology to facilitate business. As a one-time drug prosecutor, I was always struck by the pragmatic way that high-level drug dealers described their business . many of them spoke like the crème de la crème of the MBA crop. Of course, many have business, legal and technical training, and they will use all the tricks in the book to improve business. Including violence, extortion, intimidation- and technology. Detective Ken Reimer of the Toronto Police Service's fraud squad, an expert on debit card fraud, spends a good part of his life watching criminals use technology to constantly refine their methods to steal personal identification numbers (PINs) and magnetic strip codes from the back of debit cards - creating ever more elaborate false fronts for ATM machines, and false card readers with embedded chip technology that can read and store PIN numbers. The lynchpins of these lucrative operations are known to police to have computer and engineering backgrounds. They also will go to considerable lengths to defeat technology . if it is worth their while. They issue "tenders" to the black market for specifications to break the latest bank equipment that tries to foil debit card crime - and the battle goes on. Detective Reimer and his colleagues express frustration that repeat offenders are routinely released on bail, and they must watch them drive straight from the courthouse to their next target location to try out their latest skimming device. But at least garden-variety criminals are predictable, as they are invariably motivated by money. But terrorists need money too, to realize their apocalyptic conflagrations . and the links between organized crime and terrorists have always been amorphous, but nonetheless real. Criminals of all stripes will continue to exploit technology for their own ends. They will 'mix and match'- blend the old with the new, and attempt to foil law enforcement efforts to track them. Detective Reimer has encountered encryption on laptops seized from bad guys, but so far police have been able to crack the codes. However, if criminals and terrorists use very strong encryption correctly, it can be impossible to break it. What then? Cpl. Jamie Driscoll of the RCMP Electronic Surveillance Support Unit, agreed that the ever-changing nature of technology is an ongoing challenge, but he is confident that the RCMP can evolve to match the capabilities of their tech-savvy adversaries. But we will not stay ahead, or even keep pace, with people who desire to do us harm, if we fixate on irrelevant distinctions, and stop thinking out of the box. Or if we keep throwing good money after bad. Can we look forward to a common-sense revolution in 2006? In the spirit of the season, I remain optimistic. Happy holidays. _________________________________________ Earn your Master's degree in Information Security ONLINE www.msia.norwich.edu/csi Study IA management practices and the latest infosec issues. Norwich University is an NSA Center of Excellence.
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