Scientists Look to Combat Cyber-terror

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The cyber-jungle may be inhabited by some
mischievous, predatorial and downright nasty folks, but U.S.  government
scientists have plenty of their own crafty weapons in the works. 

Speaking at a conference on cyber-terrorism today in Washington, Terry
Hawkins of the Los Alamos National Laboratory explained several
high-concept hardware and software developments that could help defend
vulnerable U.S. computer networks. 

There are myriad ways that hackers can infiltrate business and government
systems, including password guessers and crackers;  software "back doors"
left by programmers; "sniffers" that allow interlopers to read passwords
as they whiz by in cyberspace; and "spoofing," or masquerading as another

The government doesn't expect to close all the cracks, Hawkins said, but
it wants to avoid a true incident of cyber-terrorism that would cripple a
major industry -- such as electric utilities or airlines -- or shut down a
key military system. 

In the search for security, researchers are working on computer gear that
controls data using extremely small or complex means, said Hawkins, the
director of Los Alamos's Nonproliferation and International Security
Division. If we can't stop hackers or cyber-terrorists, then we can at
least detect them quickly or find ways to easily repair the damage they

Among the concepts are: 

--Quantum encryption. Scientists are perfecting ways to use single photons
-- the particles that make up light -- to carry encrypted messages down
fiber-optic tubes. If a photon is interrupted, it can't be sent on its way
again without appearing differently at the other end. Hawkins said,
"There's no hacker that can violate the laws of physics." 

--Quantum computing. Whereas even the smallest, fastest computer chips
require flows of multiple electrons through their silicon pathways, the
Los Alamos scientists are working on computers that would use single
electrons or lone calcium ions to do their calculations. These computers
would have intensely high encryption powers. 

--Biologically inspired systems. When organisms fight off intruders such
as viruses and bacteria, their cells adapt to provide immunity in most
cases. Hawkins said computers could be given "mutable" protection measures
that would "learn" to rebuff hackers the same way. 

--High-density data-storage. Hawkins said scientists have developed ways
to etch small words and pictures on certain substances, creating
microfiche-style images that are only atoms high. He suggested that
eventually, the entire Library of Congress and more could be put on a slab
the size of a credit card. Since the data wouldn't be in computer code, it
would be an ideal backup after major computer failure. 

Hawkins spoke of other developments, including voice-morphing technology
that allowed scientists to play an elaborate joke on Gen. Hugh Shelton,
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Los Alamos staff members, using special software, recorded about 10
minutes of the general's speaking, then fabricated the sound patterns into
a long, elaborate speech where Shelton's voice advocated the overthrow of
the U.S. government. Shelton personally asked for the tape after hearing
it. Hawkins assumes the general destroyed it. 

There is one other way the government can check in on the network of
hackers and potential terrorists on the Internet. Most of these rogues
communicate through pornographic sites, Hawkins said, because they know
government employees are forbidden to look at them at work. 

[What?! This is one of the most absurd statements I have seen. Most
rogues communicate via e-mail just like everyone else. The difference is,
they often rely on strong encryption to protect themselves. Strong 
encryption is another area the government "is forbidden to look at".]

He said now there are federal agents "who are authorized to go there." 

[Federal agents investigating computer crime were always allowed
to go there. How else would they bust illegal pornography?]