Designing Digital Defenses
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
09 July 1998
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Defense experts are gearing up to face a new danger
threatening America and its allies -- cyberattacks.
The advent of the computer-based Information Age has opened the door to
unconventional attacks since almost every aspect of modern life has become
increasingly dependent on computers. Telecommunications, government operations,
banking and finance, transportation, air traffic control, water supply systems,
medical, police, fire and rescue -- all are vulnerable to attack.
By the year 2000, experts predict 1 million networks will be connected to
the Internet. About 350 million computers will have e-mail access. Nearly 20
trillion bits of data are now transmitted monthly, and this figure is doubling
All it might take to disrupt the nation's power grids and other critical
infrastructure are a home computer, a telephone line, digital dexterity and a
double dose of moxie. Right now, computer hackers are poking and prodding,
trying to gain unauthorized access to national and private systems.
Recently, for example, two computer-wise California teen-agers succeeded
in breaching an unclassified Pentagon defense network. Security experts believe
critical systems could well become the targets of more than inquisitive
Terrorists, criminals, disgruntled employees and even rogue states could
launch much more serious cyberattacks. Rather than confront the United States or
its allies on the battlefield, future foes may attack nations' infrastructures.
DoD alone has about 2.1 million computers, 10,000 local area networks and more
than 100 long-distance networks.
"There are no borders in cyberspace," Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre
declared at a NATO conference in Vienna in June. "It is absolutely imperative
that we prepare now to protect these systems."
Last year, DoD conducted Eligible Receiver, an exercise to determine U.S.
vulnerability to computer attacks, Hamre told about 250 NATO and Partnership for
Peace members attending the 15th NATO Workshop.
"We selected a small group of employees -- 35 individuals," Hamre
explained. "We gave them funds to buy computers from local stores. They were
only allowed to use off-the-shelf software or software they could download from
the Internet. They were given three months to find out if they could disrupt the
infrastructure of the United States."
The results were startling, Hamre said. "We didn't let them take down the
power system of the United States, but they could have done it." Defense
officials learned it only requires modest know-how to seriously disrupt vital
services like power distribution and telecommunications, he said.
"A small handful of capable computer specialists -- a capability well
within the reach of even moderately developed countries -- using off-the-shelf
technology and equipment can now wage war against the largest country in the
world," he said.
Hence, the United States is taking steps to protect its infrastructure. A
presidential mandate calls for a plan to implement information assurance
measures. It includes creating lead agencies to coordinate with private
companies, and setting up a new national infrastructure protection center.
The plan designates a coordinator for infrastructure protection on the National
Security Council. Government officials are also setting up a national warning
and analysis center and increasing funding for information assurance fivefold,
"This is a pressing problem because you can't solve it by yourself," Hamre
said. "The Defense Department cannot solve this problem because we don't own the
systems that are likely to be attacked. We have to develop partnerships with the
private sector to get them to fix this problem."
Cooperation among NATO allies and partners is also vitally important, he
said. "With this increasingly 'Interneted' world, we cannot accept
vulnerabilities in our allies," he said. "The weakest link in the chain becomes
the broken chain for us all."