Electronic Attacks On Banks A Myth
By Douglas Hayward, TechWeb 

LONDON -- Accusations that criminals are using high-tech weapons to
extort hundreds of millions of dollars from banks and stock exchanges
are "pure imagination," according to Europe^s largest defense
electronics research agency.

Gangs of criminals and hackers were said to have extorted last year more
than $600 million from stock exchanges and major financial institutions
across the world by threatening a variety of high-tech attacks on
mission-critical IS systems. These threatened attacks were said to
include hacking, virus attacks, and use of radio-frequency weapons
capable of destroying computer systems with blasts of high energy.

But statements that cybercriminals and terrorists have access to
radio-frequency weapons are nonsense, according to Michael Corcoran,
principal analyst in the information warfare group of Britain^s Defence
Evaluation and Research Agency, which is responsible for developing the
United Kingdom^s electronic warfare technology.

"There are no radio-frequency weapons out there that anyone is in a
position to use against banks," said Corcoran at a seminar Tuesday at
the International Center for Security Analysis in London. Radio-
frequency weapons are not yet a point of concern, he said. "They will be
in the future, but they are certainly not yet. The reports in some
newspapers last year were pure imagination."

Corcoran also blasted the idea that the United States and its allies are
vulnerable to a strategically devastating electronic and computer-based
attack on their national IS and communications infrastructures ^- a
possibility dubbed by some defense analysts the "electronic Pearl
Harbor" threat. According to this threat scenario, the increasing
dependence of developed countries^ military and civilian infrastructures
on networked computers lets terrorists and rogue nations such as Iraq
cripple essential infrastructures through electronic attacks.

"An electronic Pearl Harbor won^t ever be possible," Corcoran said. "If
you look at the intelligence requirements to do it, they are quite
horrendous."
 
Tactical attacks capable of sabotaging important individual computer
systems ^- such as those controlling air traffic control or water
supplies -^ may be possible, Corcoran said. "But that is a tactical
attack, not a strategic attack," he added.

The agency is nevertheless convinced that foreign powers are already
using hacking methods to conduct preliminary reconnaissance into the
British military^s computer and communications systems, Corcoran said.
It had traced at least two incidents in which military systems were
penetrated, but computer audit trails were switched off in both systems,
letting the hackers avoid detection.

"We are going to be attacked," Corcoran said. "We have got to train
people to deal with having no communications or perhaps having no
computer system, or a much degraded system."

Part of the problem is that Britain^s military systems change so rapidly
that the Ministry of Defence does not know where the weak points are in
its network, he added.

[TechWeb News]