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How Vulnerable Are We? 11 October 2001 Edition
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The US has warned that concerted and effective cyber-attacks could cause major disruption to the nation's infrastructure services of a scale that would make the September 11 attacks look like kids' play.

There's talk of vulnerabilities in critical systems such as water supplies, electricity grids and telecommunications.

The impression is given that perhaps key control systems for these critical networks are publicly available -- perhaps even through the Internet.

This would not be surprising -- after all, it's only a year or so ago that a hacker managed to get into some of NASA's mission critical systems by way of the Internet -- duh!

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While there may be some great benefits associated with providing Internet gateways to other mission-critical computer networks -- one must also consider the risks that this produces.

Even in peace-time, the evil crackers amongst us have proven their ability to defeat even the most bullet-proof of defenses. The list of those who have been embarrassed is long and illuminating: The FBI, the US military, various US government departments, NASA, etc, etc.

Now that the USA is at war, surely they have to respond to the warnings recently issued by pulling the plug on interconnections between mission-critical systems and public networks.

Or perhaps it's time to create a highly secure alternative to the Internet for just this type of application.

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Okay, we all know that it's possible to run relatively secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) over the Internet which provide a significant barrier to crackers -- but they're not invulnerable. So long as they use the same physical network as the Internet then the crackers can keep chipping away at their defenses and, given enough time (and human foibles), they'll eventually get through.

Maybe what's needed, in the USA anyway, is a physically separate network that shares none of the current Internet's infrastructure.

This network could be made multiply redundant and use a number of different techniques (strong encryption, spread-spectrum, random routing, etc) to improve its overall security and reliability by an order of magnitude over that which the Internet can provide.

The first, and possibly hardest task confronting a would-be cracker trying to compromise such a network, would be to actually find how and where the data is being transferred. Then they'd have to tap into it in an undetectable manner -- not an easy thing to do.

Script-kiddies would be way out of their depth here.

But what about here in New Zealand? How many of our critical infrastructure services are using the Internet as a part of their telecommunications network?

Should we be worried that a smart cracker could black out our major cities or plunge our air-traffic control system into chaos at a critical moment?

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Security Alerts
Microsoft tightens software security (CNet - 16/08/2001t)

Code Red Worm A 'Runaway Success' (7amNews - 20/07/2001)

Solaris bug gives hackers free rein (ZDNet - 22/06/2001)

Microsoft Admits Another 'Serious Vunerability' In IIS 7amNews - 19/06/2001)

Virus Alerts
Tripple-threat Worm Strikes (Aardvark - 19/09/2001)

New worm spreading slowly (CNet - 4/09/2001)

Trojan horse breaks Windows PCs (ZDNet - 24/08/2001)

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