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Companies warned about possible cyberattacks

By Dan Verton, and Bob Brewin
September 11, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- Government and private-sector security experts fear that today's attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are only the beginning of a wave of assaults that could include cyberterrorism.

Officials at the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), located at FBI headquarters here, were gathering for an emergency meeting to collect and analyze all available cyberintelligence information, said Navy Rear Adm. James Plehal, the deputy director of the NIPC. Details of the meeting aren't yet available.

Meanwhile, Marv Langston, former deputy CIO at the Defense Department, viewed today's terrorist attacks as an act of war and warned that they could be followed by a series of cyberattacks. Langston said the U.S. needs to prepare itself for what he described as an "electronic Pearl Harbor."

Air Force Lt. Gen. Retired Al Edmonds, now head of the Electronic Data Systems Inc., federal division, said "I would suspect a cyberattack could be next, and that would be absolutely paralyzing."

In the 1990s, the Pentagon produced a series of studies that showed that a cyber attack on computer and communication systems could cripple the U.S. as severely as a physical attack. Such an attack could shut down water systems, power plants, railroads, airports, and oil and gas pipelines, all of which run on computer and communications systems. Each system is usually controlled by a central, vulnerable location.

But Jeff Moss, president and CEO of Black Hat Briefings, a security consulting firm in Seattle, said he hasn't discovered a cyber component to today's attacks. "People are watching their logs, but from what I can tell nobody has seen anything yet." Moss is the founder of the annual Def Con hacker conference.

"Today will be security review day for a lot of places," said Moss.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems Inc. (ISS), which operates the IT sector's Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), has placed its operations center on what it calls AlertCon 3 (the highest is AlertCon 4), "in order to focus IT security efforts on the potential for (and defense against) an Internet component to these attacks." The ISAC works in cooperation with the FBI and the NIPC in sharing information about cyberthreats.

"Our monitored networks do not show any unusual activity at this time, but our [Security Operations Centers] are at a heightened state of alert as we watch for any indications that e-commerce is also being targeted," an ISS spokesman said. The financial district around Wall Street in lower Manhattan was closed down.

"This is a time to partner all security assets on what is most important to

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