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US Steps Up Internet Security - 2001-10-01

U.S. government agencies and businesses are stepping up Internet security in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks. Increasingly, in recent years, international disputes have triggered cyber crimes.

Jerry Freese of the Internet security firm Vigilinx points to the recent U.S.- China dispute as an example. When the U.S. surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet last April, he says, business web sites in both countries were attacked.

"Normally when we have those types of issues, we see it in web defacements," he said. "We'll see political messages placed on the opposition's web sites, for example. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we saw a lot of that. Atypically, this time [after the World Trade Center attack] we saw some U.S. defacing of pro Arab web sites, but there was not a lot of return fire on these things."

Some attribute the lack of "return fire" to the fact that there is little Internet access in Afghanistan.

Chris Roland of Internet Security Systems cautions, however, that the present lack of activity does not mean U.S. firms are safe.

"There are certainly organized and motivated individuals against the U.S. out there with skill sets that would enable them to attack the United States," he said. "And we also see some alignments of other Islamic nations against the United States, such as Indonesia, and they have a higher density of computer systems than they have in Afghanistan."

Mr. Roland says tech-savvy attackers around the world have developed an Internet arsenal of highly destructive weapons.

"They are fusing together different types of techniques into computer programs called worms, and these worms traverse the Internet and propagate by compromising computer systems," he said. "And once they compromise a computer system, they then leverage that computer system to launch more attacks on other computers, and we get a domino effect."

In the evolving world of Internet technology, however, Jerry Freese says protections are being developed to counter such attackers as quickly as the attack weapons are being developed.

"There are safeguards to put on your gateway, firewalls to strip off harmful attachments before they even make it to your networks," he said. "To keep up with the rash of vulnerabilities in the computer world today requires well-trained and capable staff to put them in play."

Many U.S. businesses today have their security staff in place and are waiting on "cyber alert" to see what happens next.