As the United States recently prepared for a showdown with Iraq, Pentagon planners increasingly worried about American vulnerability to a new kind of warfare-sabotage of U.S computer systems.
Government officials consider America so susceptible to such attacks that in July 1996 the White House asked 6,000 experts for their input in forming a commission to evaluate the threat and recommend strategies for defense. Included in their year-long research were senior officials from all U.S. national security agencies, the U.S. Treasury and the departments of Transportation, Energy and Commerce.
What are the dangers? Many aspects of modern life are increasingly controlled by computers, including banking systems, electrical power, telephones, hospitals, air-traffic-control systems, railroads, traffic lights, water supplies and the like. Without computers, life as we know it in Western countries would largely grind to a halt, creating massive economic problems and social upheaval.
In this kind of warfare the only weapons needed are a computer, modem and telephone line-and technological know-how. Inside knowledge, gained through bribery, threats or extortion, would make it immeasurably easier for an enemy nation-or terrorist-to infiltrate and disrupt computer systems.
Retired Air Force general Robert Marsh, head of the commission, stated: “Common to all threats is the insider. We could spend millions on technology to protect our infrastructure, but a well-placed insider or disgruntled employee could render nearly all protection useless.”
Summing up the threat, Gen. Marsh stated: “The opportunity to do harm is expansive and growing. The threat is a function of capability and intent . . . These tools recognize neither borders nor jurisdictions. They can be used anywhere, anytime, by anyone with the capability, technology and intent to do harm. And they offer the advantage of anonymity.”
In such warfare the identity and location of an assailant would remain a mystery, making defense and countermeasures difficult. (Source: The Independent on Sunday [London].)