Monday, 14 November 2005

Threat of cyber terrorism looms large on Defence computers

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 14: As the nation gets ready for disaster management preparedness programme from the New Year, threat of cyber terrorism looms large over the all-important communication network.
Communication network being a vital infrastructure in disaster management activity, any exposure to cyber attacks will send the entire relief and rehabilitation planning into haywire, say in case of cyclones, floods or earthquakes.
National Disaster Management Authority is working towards the establishment of diverse and redundant networks to fight against cyber terrorists but fears that these networks may not be "robust" with adequate firewalls to ensure their availability at the time of disasters. The NDMA, which held its sitting recently in Hyderabad, gave a serious thinking on what to and what not to do if cyber terrorists jam the communication system during natural calamities.
According to NDMA vice-chairman NC Vij, the NDMA is working towards development of a software immune to such attacks during natural calamities. Cyber terrorists are capable of jamming the communication system and government networks crippling all relief activity. They can simply hack into the networks giving a wrong direction to the relief and rehabilitation measures.
"With cyber terrorism going to stay in this age of information technology, the country needs replicate controls not only to prevent cyber attacks but also to ensure that the network in calamity-hit area does not go haywire. There should be replicate controls at a distance of 200 km or so," says security systems specialist MH Nobel.
Ethical hackers suggest that software used for communication systems exclusively meant in times of natural calamities should be processed from neutral countries like Switzerland as cyber terrorists perennial make USA systems their prime target. H Topiwala of Networks Data, UK, points out that the government should go in for multiple paths like fibre and radio optical networks so that even one fails the other will work.
"Proprietary operating system based on Linux or hardened operating system can be employed for greater chances of survival in case of cyber attacks,"
he suggested.
The NDMA has been focusing on cyber terrorism because most of the government networks are not immune to such attacks. The problem gets more complicated when a natural calamity strikes and the government wants to take up emergency relief measures. Even the USA is not immune to such attacks. A recent survey by the Defence Information Security Agency revealed that 88 per cent of the 3000 defence computer systems that were attacked were "easily penetrable". Of the systems that were illegally entered, 96 per cent of the entries were not detected. Of the 4 per cent that were detected, only 5 per cent of them were reported or investigated.
There have been instances of cyber-terrorists hacking into hospital computer system and changing the medicine prescription of patients to a lethal dosage as an act of revenge. And if this happens in times of natural calamities, the damage will be catastrophic.

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