Monday, October 11, 1999


Outwit the fomenters of cyber-peril

As wondrous as the Internet may be, urgent precautions are essential to foil the evil designs of those who hack away at its vulnerabilities and endanger the nation's security.

   FOR ALL its marvelous promise to enhance the efficiency and quality of life, sophisticated communications technology has its dark side as well: its vulnerability to malicious exploitation by computer-savvy hackers.

    From the simple mischief of a teen-ager defacing some pages on a friend's Web site just for the fun of it to a terrorist's penetration of the nation's most sensitive military intelligence, the ability to wreak havoc on computer files is becoming a growing threat to the security of countless critical databases.

    So daunting has the rising incidence of computer intrusions become that the FBI has admitted its resources are strained beyond reasonable limits to detect criminal intrusions into the files of governments, financial institutions and a host of systems for which security is essential.

    Testifying before the Senate Judiciary technology and terrorism subcommittee last week, Michael Vatis of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center said the agency has 800 pending cases, a level reached after doubling in the last two years. Training of new

   "cyberagents" has been insufficient to keep pace outside major population centers such as Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Vatis' testimony echoes concerns raised by a General Accounting Office report issued last week and reporting the alarming risk facing computer systems at the Pentagon, law-enforcement agencies and private industries because of weak oversight and lax management of system security.

    Because of the global reach of the Internet and the increasing sophistication of those who would devote their technological prowess to sinister ends -- terrorists, organized-crime bosses, a variety of extremists with political or ideological motives -- the urgency to reinforce defenses against hackers grows by the day.

    Certainly Congress should call for an accounting from the stewards of the country's most sensitive military intelligence, and should appropriate sufficient funds to apply the technological countermeasures to ensure that such secrets are safeguarded.

    But as interdependent as America has become on electronic information, no government agency or private industry can afford not to devote the time and resources to outwit those who seek to exploit -- and some to cripple -- the technological nervous system upon which modern life increasingly relies.

Last updated 99/10/11
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