A fast-growing Web of fear

 As if the hackers weren't enough, now we've entered the age of
push-button terrorism. Michal Revah reports on a conference dealing with
the the implications of modern-day cyber-terror

"Push-button terrorism" and "modern-day cyber-terror" in the 
first paragraph is a bad start. Buzz words and hype.

 "Kodak put its first camera on the market about a hundred years ago, with
the slogan 'you push the button, we do the rest.' Today we have entered
the age of 'mouse terrorism,' terrorism at the push of a button," says
Prof. Yonah Alexander, director of the Inter-University Center for
Terrorism Studies (ICTS) of the Center for Technological Education - Holon
and George Washington University Terrorism Studies Program, and one of the
organizers of the conference on "Threats of the Technological Age."The
conference, held on March 17-18 in Tel Aviv and Holon, integrated three
areas specific to the modern age: cyber-terrorism; super-terrorism: 
biological, chemical, and nuclear; and the environment - global warming.
Beyond the connection between these areas and the development of
technology, these are dangers faced by the modern world, and they require
interdisciplinary cooperation between scholars, governments and industry
to at least offer ways to minimize damage. 

The first session dealt with terror and the Internet. Precise instructions
on how to prepare bombs can be found on the Internet, and terror
organizations use it to transmit information and even to recruit
supporters. No one is surprised any more to hear about the Pentagon
computers being hacked into, and the world banking systems claim that
millions of dollars have been made to "disappear" by hackers. But
activities by hackers may be considered criminal, at worst, or just a pain
in the neck, at best. The same cannot be said for terrorist activity on
the Net. 

Banks claiming that is counterproductive and definitely not
on par. Banks have continually NOT reported any hacking incidents as it
undermines their secure reputations.

Today, the situation is still manageable. Colonel (Ret.) Marvin Leibstone,
of the Computer, Security and Technology Studies Project in the U.  S. 
looks ahead with anxiety. "The threat of cyber-terrorism is real,
especially because of the sensitivity of our information systems, some of
which have already become the target of break-ins. Today, it is much
harder for conventional terrorists to wreak as much damage, as they used
to in the past, because of standard security methods, for example such as
those that exist in airports. That is why it has become much more
important for terrorists to embrace remote control methods. A
cyber-terrorist is anyone using electronic communications to control
destructive action from afar. The threat has become global, because the
world and our daily lives have become more and more dependent on sensitive
information systems, and other international systems." 

A partial list of possible cyber-terrorist targets: an attack on the
operation of electric, water, gas, television or telephone supplies; 
penetration into food or drug manufacturing firms to disrupt their
production; interference with air or land transportation - concrete
scenarios exist of how an air collision between two planes can be
produced; disruption of communications between governments, which today is
largely effected by electronic means; and military targets. 

Cyberterrorists can disrupt the data of intelligence units and interfere
with intelligence operations. Data bases of different organizations can be
penetrated, and use made of the data they contain; or public trust in
these agencies or the information they provide can be undermined by
compromising their data bases. They can even cause intentional disruptions
of volcanoes, which are also dependent on electronic communications. 

Prof. Alexander adds: "On the basis of our studies, the challenges of the
21st century are very serious, and we are all in the same boat.  There is
no difference between nations or countries because of the globalization of
the systems in use. An attack on international economics, for example,
hurts all the countries of the world.", There has never been a
cyberterrorist attack. 

"We always thought of Iran in connection with chemical weapons, and then
there was the attack on the Tokyo subway with poison gas. We must think
one step further, to anticipate what could happen. It is known that
countries that support terror are directing their people to technological
and computer studies in order to use their knowledge in the future. The
Internet already serves as an arena for psychological warfare. We have to
consider the dangers and the chances that the Internet will be used for

Scholars have an obligation, believes Alexander, to identify the dangers
and indicate the possible ways to combat them. Scholars, along with those
in industry and in the field of security, feel like cats chasing mice -
the hackers, who are getting better all the time. Today, they can hack
into computers faster than the industry or the universities can find
solutions. That is one of the reasons the organizers of this conference
felt the need to combine forces with others involved in the hunt, to raise
awareness of the problem. This was the main purpose of the conference -
the first of its kind held in Israel - as well as to create a meeting
place for people from different fields. Among the 70 participants were
representatives of foreign embassies in Israel, scholars - including six
who came for the conference from the U. S. and Russia, industry
representatives, led by Stef Wertheimer - the keynote speaker, members of
the Knesset, military personnel and one police representative. People
could be seen exchanging business cards. 

Woo Hailong, a political consultant at the Chinese embassy in Israel, and
one of the participants in the conference, took a personal and
professional interest in it. "Although it hasn't yet happened, the threat
exists, and it must be studied. I imagine that I will present the subject
to my embassy or government.".