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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK
Tackling cyber crime
Computer monitor
Computer networks will become terror targets
By BBC Washington Correspondent Stephen Sackur

Ken van Wick is paid big money to hack into top-secret corporate computer networks.

The twist is, it is the corporations themselves who are paying him. His company, ParaProtect, shows clients how to beef up their internet security.


Cult of the Dead Cow web site
Hacker sites provide easy to use tools
He is in demand, especially in the wake of the mayhem of the Love Bug computer virus.

"Most importantly as an attacker, I want to learn every possible weak point that I can exploit," Mr van Wick said.

"To execute one of those attacks has become increasingly easy. Some of the tools have good online help available and are freely available to download," he said.

"And because these tools are available and because they are getting more technically complex it makes it easier to execute an attack against sites."

Tools in the wrong hands

Even a computer dunce like me can learn the art of computer hacking.

If I just type the words "hacking tools" into a search engine on the internet, in just a few minutes, I can find literally hundreds of sites dedicated to teaching me how to become a hacker.

Computer hackers have even set up their own radio station on the web.

Some see hacking as an innocent hobby, no more dangerous than stamp collecting.

But the reality is that potentially dangerous information is falling into the wrong hands.
Kevin Mitnick
Hacker Kevin Mitnick says it is only a matter of time before the US Government is attacked

Frank Cilluffo is preoccupied with the potential threat of cyber-terrorists.

He heads a taskforce in Washington advising Congress on the best ways to respond.

"Could you create terror through cyber means? You bet," said Mr Cilluffo, the director of the Cyber-Terrorism Taskforce.

In America, one hacker temporarily disabled an air traffic control centre, and another crippled the emergency response computer network in Florida.

To some, these amount to only isolated incidents, but Frank Cilluffo says there is evidence that organised militant groups have been taking notes.

"The first official terrorist use of offensive information operations was two years ago, and that was conducted by the Tamil Tigers where they disrupted Sri Lankan embassy communications in Washington, Ottawa and Seoul, Korea," he said.

The US is most concerned about rogue nations and traditional terrorist organisations, he added.

"They have not actively pursued information warfare, but I do think that is a matter of time."

Disruption threat

On Capitol Hill, politicians worry not just about protecting military secrets, but also about safeguarding key infrastructure like the national electricity grid.

The FBI has set up a national infrastructure protection centre.

But the trail of cyber-crime often leads overseas where the US does not have jurisdiction.

Jonathan Rusch pursues cyber-criminals for the Department of Justice.

"The truth is, the more the bad guys learn about technology and how to exploit it, and the more that they can use the existing technology of the internet to conceal their location, their identity, where they send the money from and the fraudulent schemes they run, there is a real potential for the substantial expansion of the problem," he said.

Mr Cilluffo said that we have seen the potential of these attacks to cause disruption.

"What we haven't seen is the marriage of the real bad guys exploiting the real good stuff," he said. "In my eyes, that is only a matter of time."

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See also:

07 Jan 00 | Americas
Police seek key to cyber-crime
03 Mar 00 | Americas
Hacker warns US authorities
09 May 00 | Americas
Defending cyberspace
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