Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not represented as fact|
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.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
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.
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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