Nation


Terrorism Takes to the Web
System of a Down

While U.S. intelligence officials fret over America's wide-open borders, folks behind the scenes worry about vulnerabilities in the nation's cyber-infrastructure. Enemy hackers could take over computer systems that control air traffic, hydroelectric generators, pipeline security, even nuclear plants.

That kind of action requires skill, but it can also be child's play. In 1998, a 12-year-old boy successfully hacked into the controls for the huge Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in Arizona. He might have released flood waters that would have inundated Mesa and Tempe, endangering at least 1 million people.

Cyber-attacks are growing more popular. During this year's tense standoff between India and Pakistan, sapper gangs of cybernerds duked it out. According to the BBC, two groups—the Unix Security Guards and the World Fantabulous Defacers—made 111 digital attacks on Indian educational and business sites. A pro-Islamic cyber-alliance now operates across the Internet against U.S., Israeli, and Indian targets. "I know they exist, for I met some of them, either on the Web or in person," Damien Bancal, editor of the French site Zataz.com, told the Voice.

As part of a campaign to demonstrate just how easily a savvy enemy could disrupt the nation, two nerds calling themselves the Deceptive Duo hacked into the Federal Aviation Agency in April and downloaded unpublished information on airport passenger screening.

The FAA acknowledged the breach, but said the system was an old one. Anyhow, the agency said all the hack job accomplished was to post information that already had been given to Congress and hence was public to begin with. "It was data that was used for a report that went to Congress, so it's essentially public information anyway," spokesman Paul Takemoto told Securityfocus.com.

In addition to hitting the FAA, the Duo broke into a U.S. Navy site and posted information taken from a Midwest Express Airlines passenger reservation system. They apparently also attacked a U.S. Department of Transportation site and two NASA sites. "We are two individuals who risk our future and our lives to help the nation in such a vulnerable time," the Duo told Securityfocus.com. "Somebody has to do it; if we don't, a terrorist might."

If you want to see for yourself what's out there on the Net for would-be attackers, check out Cryptome.org, a site where you can eyeball every nuclear power plant, with clear aerial photos and a concise data sheet prepared by federal disaster officials. The site also allows you a virtual tour of Dick Cheney's VP mansion near the Naval Observatory in Washington. Outwardly, the place looks like a citadel, with barricades placed across the entrance and cop cars parked randomly along the brightly lit fence. But with the images provided by Cryptome.com, you can sail right past all this stuff and take a look that's uncomfortably detailed.


Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson, Joshua Hersh, Caroline Ragon, and Cassandra Lewis.

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