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Rumsfeld: Cyberwar among possible threats


By Martyn Williams

(IDG) -- The vulnerability of U.S. information networks and a belief that a future attack against the U.S. may be launched in cyberspace is high in the mind of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as he plots to change the U.S. armed forces so they can better defend against unconventional threats.

"Our challenge in this new century is a different one," Rumsfeld told an audience at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, according to a transcript. "It's really to defend our nation against the unknown, the uncertain and, what we have to understand, will be the unexpected. That may seem on the face of it an impossible task but it is not."

"There is a great deal we can learn from this first war of the 21st century, but we cannot and must not make the mistake of assuming that terrorism is the only threat. The next threat we face may indeed be from terrorists, but it could also be cyber-war, a traditional state-on-state conflict or something entirely different," said Rumsfeld. INFOCENTER
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With this as a background, Rumsfeld said he has six goals for transforming U.S. defense strategy including "to protect our info networks from attack," and "to use info technology to link up different kinds of U.S. forces so they can, in fact, act jointly."

His speech came just over four months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- attacks that served to highlight the vulnerability of key telecommunications and information networks.

In the wake of the attacks, some telecommunication networks in the New York City area were paralyzed after several key exchanges were taken offline, either because of damage to cables, the buildings they are housed in or a loss of power. Beyond New York, where telephone calls went unconnected and bank ATM machines were offline, the effects spread around the world as trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq markets was suspended and Internet traffic routed through New York was slowed.

The growing importance of infrastructure systems, such as telecommunication and non-IT sectors like banking and finance, and the chaos feared if the systems were attacked led to the creation of the National Infrastructure Protection Center in February 1998. Located at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's headquarters in Washington, the NIPC brings together representatives of national, state and local agencies and the private sector to work on protecting key sectors.

To date, the NIPC has spent much time on IT issues, tracking large scale outbreaks of computer viruses, such as the "Code Red" worm that hit in early September last year and hacking cases, such as denial of service attacks against major Web sites.




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