As one reader pointed out, it takes a lot of balls to sit in front of congress hawking your book (mentioning it three times as if Congressman didn't hear it the first two). Another pointed out it was "ethically questionable" to which another replies, "that sums up Verton quite well".

Testimony of
Mr. Dan Verton

February 24, 2004
Feb. 24, 2004

Statement for the Record of
Dan Verton
Author, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism
(McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2003)

"Virtual Threat, Real Terror: Cyberterrorism in the 21st Century "

Before the
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security
United States Senate Committee on The Judiciary
Washington, D.C.

Good afternoon Chairman Kyl, Ranking Member Feinstein and Members of the

I want to thank you for the honor of appearing before you today to discuss
what I believe is an urgent national security matter and I applaud your
leadership in this area.

Although I do not consider myself a technical expert, I have a professional
background in intelligence and information security, and Iım the author of a
recently published book by McGraw-Hill titled Black Ice: The Invisible
Threat of Cyber-Terrorism that goes into detail regarding the subject of
todayıs hearing and has been endorsed by some of the nationıs leading
authorities in critical infrastructure protection, terrorism and information
security, including the presidentıs two former chief cyber security
advisors, Richard Clarke and Howard Schmidt. My statement for the record,
which I will summarize for you now, is based primarily on my research for
Black Ice and some of my more recent work in this area.

I would like to address the following three questions:

1. What is the nationıs current level of vulnerability to cyber-terrorism?

2. What is al-Qaedaıs capability to conduct cyber-terrorism?

3. What are the potential implications of a combined physical and
cyber-terrorist attack against U.S. critical infrastructures?

1. What is the nationıs current level of vulnerability to cyber-terrorism?

Before any meaningful discussion can be conducted about the nationıs
vulnerability to cyber-terrorism, it is important to understand that there
is no longer any separation between the physical, real world, and the
cyber-world. Computers and computer networks control real things in the real
world. And many of those ³things² are critical infrastructures, such as
electricity, drinking water and real-time financial transactions that have
implications for both public safety and the national economy.

And this understanding must lead us to a new, more flexible definition of
the term cyber-terrorism. We can no longer view cyber-terrorism with
blinders on, choosing only to consider the acts of somebody sitting behind a
computer and hacking or disrupting the operation of other computers or
networks as cyber-terrorism. If we learned anything from 9/11 it was that
traditional physical forms of terrorism can have massive cyber ramifications
that can severely impair the functioning of the nationıs economy ­ an
economy that is almost wholly dependent on the uninterrupted operation of a
fragile, privately owned and operated digital infrastructure.

Likewise, it is just as important for us to recognize that there is no
longer such a thing as an insignificant vulnerability. When vulnerabilities
exist, regardless of how minor we may think they are, they open the door to
the unexpected and the unanticipated. This is particularly true in the realm
of information technologies, where hidden interdependencies exist throughout
the nationıs critical infrastructures.

And it is an unprecedented level of interdependency that accounts for the
nationıs current level of vulnerability to cyber-terrorism, in both its
physical and its electronic forms. Today every infrastructure or sector of
the economy is potentially the Achilles heel of other infrastructures and
economic sectors. For example, there is little question about the critical
role of electric power in the operation of all sectors of the economy, the
dependence of the electric industry on natural gas, the dependence of
reliable telecommunications on electric power, the dependence of financial,
government, and emergency services operations on both electric power and
telecommunications, and the potential impact from prolonged failures of
these infrastructures on drinking water and transportation systems. And the
interdependence and potential for the type of cascading failure I am
describing here stems from the confluence of the physical world and the
cyber world.

Perhaps one of the most important areas where an unprecedented level of
vulnerability has existed for years and still exists today is in the
widespread adoption of wireless technologies. Although there are proven
methods and security systems available for protecting wireless networks,
they are not always understood and deployed properly, if at all. In my
research I have found evidence of unprotected wireless networks in use at
the following infrastructure settings: hospitals; airline baggage checking
systems at some of the largest U.S. air carriers; railroad track heating
switches; uranium mining operations; water and wastewater treatment
facilities; security cameras; and oil wells and water flood operations.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, or SCADA systems, are in
many ways the crown jewels of some of the nationıs most important industrial
control settings, such as the electric power grid. But they are not ­ as
their name might imply ­ built upon secret, proprietary technology. To the
contrary, modern design specifications for SCADA systems, which I have
documented through both personal interviews with experts and through
open-source research on the Internet, presents us with the frightening
reality that the SCADA systems being used in our nationıs critical
infrastructures are nothing more than high-end commercial PCs and Servers
running Microsoft Corp. operating systems. In other words, the genie is out
of the bottle and has been for years in terms of understanding how to
disrupt or corrupt the operations of SCADA systems. Today, itıs simply a
matter of gaining access. And as I have also documented in my research,
gaining access to SCADA systems for the purpose of causing widespread chaos,
confusion and economic damage is increasingly becoming a mere formality for
professional hackers, virus and worm writers, and terrorist-sponsored

The energy industry has acknowledged the existence of these linkages and the
imperative of protecting SCADA systems from unauthorized access. In December
2001, for example, the American Gas Association and the Gas Technology
Institute met in Washington, D.C., to discuss the need for improved
encryption to protect SCADA communications between key nodes in the natural
gas grid. One of the slides used during the two days of presentations
highlights the threats posed to SCADA communications from the use of
commercial computer equipment, open communication protocols that are widely
published and available to anybody, linkages and reliance on the public
switched telephone network, and the ability to steal the hardware.

In addition, a recent network architecture plan released by a major company
in the water and wastewater industry included the following requirements for
its SCADA systems: Peer-to-peer networking over TCP/IP (Transmission Control
Protocol/ Internet Protocol^Ëin other words, the Internet); software changes
that can be downloaded from any node on the network; dial-in capabilities to
all software functions; and a link to the existing pump station.

Consider the following additional examples, which I document in my book,
Black Ice; The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism:

The U.S. railroad systemıs increasing use of wireless technologies may
present one of the most immediate dangers to both national security and
local safety. Given the systemıs long, winding network of radio, telephone,
and computer assets, voice and data communications networks provide vital
links between train crews, trackside monitoring and repair staff, and rail
control centers. Total control of the massive network is accomplished
through a communication system that integrates trackside maintenance
telephones, trackside transponders, security cameras and monitors, passenger
information displays, public announcements, the public telephone network,
radio bases, and control center consoles. However, wireless SCADA systems
are increasingly providing the management glue that keeps all of these
systems running together. In the colder regions of the country, underground
heaters keep the rails from freezing in winter. These operations are also
being controlled and monitored by wireless SCADA computers. The use of
modern technology in this case means that in the case of a failure,
railroads no longer have to dispatch technicians in the dead of winter to
remote locations where heating switches are usually located. However, it
also means that the security of these switching operations may now have a
new series of security challenges to deal with. This is of particular
concern given the dangerous nature of some train cargo.

The City of Brighton, Michigan, is one example. Brighton is a city of only
6,500. But that population skyrockets to more than 70,000 each day due to a
thriving business district and a boom in hotel space. However, beneath the
streets of Brighton is a water and wastewater system that is controlled in
part by wireless technology. The remote terminals monitor pump run time,
pump failures, flood sensors, high water level alarms, and power, as well as
site intrusion alarms and manually activated panic buttons. The utility also
planned to equip work vehicles with a controller connected to a laptop
computer. ³With critical data now available at just the click of a mouse,
the laborious, time-consuming, and often hazardous, need for utility workers
to make daily rounds to check pump status at each of the lift stations is a
thing of the past,² claimed marketing material from one of the contractors
responsible for installing the equipment. The mobile controller would then
allow utility engineers to monitor the waste water system while theyıre
driving around the city.

Uranium mining operations in Wyoming extract uranium from the soil through a
process by which water is injected into the ground. Because of the
contamination, remote terminals are necessary to control and manage the
pumps that move the water and extract the uranium. Commercial PC-based
remote workstations now support critical monitoring functions, such as pump
failure, pump status, temperature, speed, and even the pumpıs on/off
condition. But the security implications are enormous. When pumps lose
power, water pressure starts building up in the plant. Software has been
programmed to automatically reset certain pumps to get the pressure out as
fast as possible. And itıs all being done in the name of cost-effectiveness.

In states throughout the Midwest, one can find oil wells arranged in a
twelve-mile-diameter circle. They are part of whatıs known in the vernacular
of the oil industry as a ³water flood² operation. However, with such a large
number of pumps and holding tanks to manage, drilling companies are
increasingly turning their attention to wireless SCADA systems to monitor
critical functions of the operation, including emergency systems that are
designed to ensure environmental safety. For example, wireless SCADA systems
are used to monitor pressure and flow rates in both oil and water pipelines.
When flow rates drop below normal levels, the system is designed to turn on
additional pumps. In addition, if pipeline pressure or tank levels exceed
normal operating limits the system will turn various pumps off. They are
also used to monitor tank levels and overflow pit levels ^Ëa critical safety
indicator that could have environmental consequences if it fails. And as in
the case of the 911 emergency systems, oil well managers and technicians
also have remote dial-in connection capabilities.

For the most part, these dire warnings have gone unheeded by the private-
sector companies that own and operate these infrastructure systems. Senior
executives view such scenarios as something akin to a Hollywood movie
script. However, throughout the entire post-September 11-security review
process, a process that continues to this day, administration experts and
other senior members of the U.S. intelligence community were quietly coming
to the conclusion that they were witnessing the birth of a new era of
terrorism. Cyberspace, with its vast invisible linkages and critical role in
keeping Americaıs vital infrastructures and economy functioning, was fast
becoming a primary target and a weapon of terror.

Mr. Chairman, my fear is that the next time we have a massive power failure,
such as we experienced on Aug. 14, 2003 it will not be a self-inflicted
wound, but potentially a terrorist-induced failure that is quickly exploited
by suicide bombings, rampaging gunmen or chemical and biological attacks
against those stranded in the subway systems.

The Genie Is Out of the Bottle

Figure 1.

This is a photo taken from a publicly available Web site that depicts the
most sensitive natural gas pipeline interconnection point in the U.S. Whatıs
interesting about this Web page is that it is completely interactive, not
only allowing the user to zoom into great detail, but also providing
latitude and longitude coordinates and detailed terrain/man-made landmarks.

Figure 2

Detailed, street-level maps of metropolitan area fiber networks are also
available online, and include building and company names through which these
high-speed interconnections pass.

Other Sensitive Data Available on Government & Corporate Web Sites

1. Detailed maps depicting the termination points along the entire Eastern
Seaboard for all long-haul undersea fiber lines.
2. Maps depicting the storage locations of all spent nuclear fuel waste in
the U.S.
3. Telecommunications network maps from which the location of current and
planned critical facilities and nodes can be derived.
4. One telecom company offered location information for all of the companyıs
five data centers, as well as a virtual tour inside a ³typical² center,
including a description of all security systems used to protect the
5. Detailed descriptions by IT companies of deployment case studies
involving SCADA systems.
6. Load-bearing capacities of elevators in large office buildings as well as
location of ventilation and air conditioning systems.
7. Number of people employed at certain office buildings as well as maps and
interactive photos of building and facility layout.
2. What is al-Qaedaıs capability to conduct cyber-terrorism?

My goal in answering this question is to convince you and others in
government to think differently about the future, and particularly, about
the future of international terrorism. The high-tech future of terrorism is
inevitable. And like the events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks (events that dated back 8 years), we are beginning now to see the
indications and warnings that international terrorism is evolving its
tactics to meet the new operational realities it faces around the world and
to better achieve its strategic goals.

Before we can tackle the question of al-Qaedaıs capabilities in terms of
conducting cyber-terrorism, it is imperative that we as a nation come to
terms with the fact that terrorism is in a constant state of evolution.
Terrorist tactics and modes of operation change and adapt over time, albeit
very slowly and often imperceptibly. It is also imperative that we accept
that terrorism has never only been about terror. There have always been and
will always be socio-political and economic warfare aspects to international
terrorism that speak directly to the potential employment of cyber-terrorist

Al-Qaedaıs view of cyber-terrorism and its history in using information
technologies is a case in point. But here, again, we face a significant
perception problem. The picture that most Americans form in their minds when
they think of al-Qaeda or of terrorists in general is a picture of a
mindless horde of thugs living a hand-to-mouth existence in caves in
Afghanistan. But this picture says nothing of the educated elite that forms
the inner circle of the groupıs command and control, it says nothing of the
technical support available on the open market in the form of out of work
intelligence experts from a host of nations, and it says nothing of the
threat posed by the continued radicalization of young people all over the
world ­ young people who are studying computer science and mathematics and
who may find it more advantageous to strike out directly at the U.S. economy
than to strap explosives around their waste and walk into a crowded café.

That said, there is already ample evidence to suggest that the current
generation of al-Qaeda terrorists understand the usefulness of attacking the
U.S. cyber infrastructure.

For example, LıHoussaine Kherchtou, a 36-year-old Moroccan, was one of
al-Qaedaıs early trainees in high-tech methods of surveillance during the
early to mid 1990s. He attended electronics training conducted in a
guesthouse owned by Osama bin Laden on Fey Street in Peshawar, Pakistan. The
electronics Lab was run by Abu al-Alkali and Salem the Iraqi. When he
arrived, however, he informed his superiors that he did not have any
background in electronics. A short time later, a more senior instructor
arrived and informed Kherchtou that a degree in engineering was required to
attend electronics training. This is not the picture of a mindless horde of
thugs. This is the picture of a thinking enemy that values formal training
and education.
In November 2002, I interviewed Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of a
London-based organization known as al-Muhajirun. Prior to the September 11,
2001 terrorist attacks, an FBI memo written by agent Kenneth Williams and
e-mailed to the FBIıs Washington headquarters on July 10, 2001, noted a
connection between Middle Eastern men enrolled in Phoenix-area flight
schools and Bakriıs organization in London. This should have been no
surprise since Bakri, a Syrian-born Muslim cleric, refers to
al-Muhajirun as ³the mouth, eyes, and ears² of bin Laden and claims to speak
on behalf of bin Ladenıs International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews
and Crusaders. Furthermore, Bakri was one of several individuals in 1998 to
receive a letter faxed from Afghanistan from bin Laden that outlined four
objectives for a jihad against the U.S., including the hijacking of
airliners. Also included in the fax was a statement urging Muslims to ³force
the closure of their companies and banks.²

But my interview with Bakri in 2002 was the first example of a high profile,
radical Islamic cleric speaking about the usefulness of cyber attacks in
support of bins Ladenıs global Jihad. According to Bakri:

^À "In a matter of time, you will see attacks on the stock market."
^À ³I would not be surprised if tomorrow I hear of a big economic collapse
because of somebody attacking the main technical systems in big companies."
^À "The third letter from Osama bin Laden^Êwas clearly addressing using the
technology in order to destroy the economy of the capitalist states. This is
a matter that is very clear."

Osama bin Laden has also spoken in these terms. According to Hamid Mir,
editor of the Ausaf newspaper, ³Hundreds of young men had pledged to him
that they were ready to die and that hundreds of Muslim scientists were with
him and who would use their knowledge in chemistry, biology and ranging
[sic] from computers to electronics against the infidels.²

Bin Laden has also instructed his followers that ³It is important to hit the
economy of the United States, which is the base of its military power. If
the economy is hit they will become preoccupied.²

Since the start of the U.S. War on Terrorism, a significant amount of
evidence has been unearthed throughout Afghanistan and various other
al-Qaeda hideouts around the world that indicates terrorism may be evolving
toward a more high-tech future at a faster rate than previously believed.

In January 2002, for example, U.S. forces in Kabul discovered a computer at
an al-Qaeda office that contained models of a dam, made with structural
architecture and engineering software. The software would have enabled
al-Qaeda to study the best way to attack the dam and to simulate the damıs
catastrophic failure. In addition, al-Qaeda operatives apprehended around
the world acknowledged receiving training in how to attack key
infrastructures. Among the data terrorists were studying was information on
SCADA systems.

Despite all of the mounting evidence that suggests al-Qaeda is evolving
toward the use of cyber-weapons, the terrorist group that started us down
this path and that has posed the greatest threat of all terrorist groups to
U.S. national security remains somewhat of a mystery. But the War on
Terrorism has helped uncover some of the hidden trends. Al-Qaeda cells now
operate with the assistance of large databases containing details of
potential targets in the U.S. They use the Internet to collect intelligence
on those targets, especially critical economic nodes, and modern software
enables them to study structural
weaknesses in facilities as well as predict the cascading failure effect of
attacking certain systems. But the future may hold something quite

The three driving factors behind al-Qaedaıs operations^Ëintent, resources,
and opportunity^Ëall point to the future use of cyber-tactics.

First, the intent of Osama bin Laden is clear. He wants to cripple the
economy of the U.S. as a means to force the withdrawal of U.S. military
personnel from Saudi Arabia and curtail economic and military support for
Israel. The targeting of corporate America and the digital economy is clear
in this regard.

Second, the growing number of technologically sophisticated sympathizers,
especially among Muslim youth, is providing al-Qaeda with a steady stream of
new talent in the use of offensive cyber-weapons. In addition to the younger
generations of hackers and virus writers, al-Qaeda and other radical
Islamist movements can count on the intelligence services of various rogue
nations who now and in the future will find themselves in the crosshairs of
the U.S. military.

Finally, America continues to present al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist
groups with ample economic targets in cyberspace, thus driving these groups
toward the increased use of cyber-tactics. Unless current trends are
reversed and Americaıs digital economy is no longer a target of opportunity,
terrorist groups around the world will continue to dedicate time and
resources to studying ways to integrate cyber-weapons into their operations.

3. What are the potential implications of a combined physical and
cyber-terrorist attack against U.S. critical infrastructures?

The blackout of August 14, 2003 notwithstanding, the danger stemming from
this unprecedented level of infrastructure interdependency was proven during
the first major infrastructure interdependency exercise, which took place in
November 2000 in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. Known by
its code name, Black Ice, the simulation was sponsored by the U.S.
Department of Energy and the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. The goal
was to prepare federal, state, local, and private-sector officials for the
unexpected consequences of a major terrorist attack or a series of attacks
throughout the region, where tens of thousands of athletes and spectators
from around the
world would gather. When it was over, Black Ice demonstrated in frightening
detail how the effects of a major terrorist attack or natural disaster could
be made significantly worse by a simultaneous cyber-attack against the
computers that manage the regionıs critical infrastructures.

Without going into the details of the exercise, the conclusions drawn by the
exercise participants are startling. Estimates showed the loss of electric
power throughout a five-state region and three provinces in Canada for at
least one month. Other estimates went as far as several months.

The important lesson is that Black Ice showed the growing number of critical
interdependencies that exist throughout the various infrastructure systems
and how devastating combined cyber-attacks and physical attacks can be. It
proved for the first time that the terroristıs mode of attack is irrelevant
when it comes to cyber-terrorism. Terrorist groups that want to amplify the
chaos and confusion of physical attacks or directly target the economy can
succeed by launching traditional-style terrorist assaults against the
nationıs cyber-infrastructure.

According to the final report on the lessons learned from exercise Black Ice
and a follow on exercise code-named Blue Cascades, government and
private-sector participants ³demonstrated at best a surface-level
understanding of interdependencies and little knowledge of the critical
assets of other infrastructures, vulnerabilities and operational dynamics of
these regional interconnections, particularly during longer-term
disruptions.² Moreover, most companies and government officials failed to
recognize their own ³overwhelming dependency upon IT-related resources to
continue business operations and execute recovery plans,² according to the

As is evident from the following paragraph, the detailed findings of the
Hart-Rudman task force confirmed the findings of the Black Ice and Blue
Cascades exercises.

Sixty percent of the Northeastıs refined oil products are piped from
refineries in Texas and Louisiana. A coordinated attack on several key
pumping stations^Ëmost of which are in remote areas, are not staffed, and
possess no intrusion detection devices^Ëcould cause mass disruption to these
flows. Nearly fifty percent of Californiaıs electrical supply comes from
natural gas power plants and thirty percent of Californiaıs natural gas
comes from Canada. Compressor stations to maintain pressure cost up to $40
million each and are located every sixty miles on a pipeline. If these
compressor stations were targeted, the pipeline would be shut down for an
extended period of time. A coordinated attack on a selected set of key
points in the electrical power system could result in multi-state blackouts.
While power might be restored in parts of the region within a matter of days
or weeks, acute shortages could mandate rolling blackouts for as long as
several years. Spare parts for critical components of the power grid are in
short supply; in many cases they must be shipped from overseas sources. 

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