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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
US computer networks at risk
Graphic BBC
Attacks such as Code Red caused major disruption
One day after the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, a congressional report has warned of the vulnerability of the country's computer networks.

The US Government has only made limited progress in protecting critical computer networks from cyber-terrorists, said the General Accounting Office, (GAO).

"Recent reports and events indicate that these efforts are not keeping pace with the growing threats and that critical operations and assets continue to be highly vulnerable to computer-based attacks," said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

"Despite the importance of maintaining the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of important federal computerised operations, federal computer systems are riddled with weaknesses that continue to put critical operations and assets at risk," it said.

Potentially devastating

The report warned that the weaknesses could have "potentially devastating implications" for the US.

The GAO has in the past cited individual government agencies for failing to protect their computer networks, including the Commerce Department and the Department of Defense.

It found that the FBI body responsible for providing comprehensive analyses on computer threats and vulnerabilities, the National Infrastructure Protection Center, (NIPC) had only achieved a "mixed" success.

The NIPC has developed "only limited warning capabilities" for threats, said the GAO.

In May, the GAO caused a stir when it said that most of the 81 internet security alerts issued by the NIPC over the last three years related to attacks that were already under way.

Growing concern

The report comes at a time when US officials are increasingly concerned about computer attacks motivated by crime, terrorism, foreign intelligence gathering, and acts of war.

According to the FBI, terrorists, transnational criminals, and intelligence services are quickly becoming aware of and using computer tools that can intercept or destroy key information.

The GAO warned that attacks over the past two months illustrated the threat to the internet and computer networks.

"These attacks, referred to as Code Red, Code Red II, and SirCam, have affected millions of computer users, shut down websites, slowed internet service, and disrupted business and government operations.

"They have already reportedly caused billions of dollars of damage, and their full effects have yet to be completely assessed," said the report.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Code Red threat tailing off
01 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Code Red keeps world guessing
31 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Internet put on Code Red alert
13 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Virus exploits voyeurs
01 Aug 01 | Talking Point
Can the hackers be stopped?
02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Code Red 'was never a threat'
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