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Cyberwar's Economic Threat

By Vernon Loeb Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, February 24, 2000; Page A19

A leading U.S. cyberwar expert told the Joint Economic Committee yesterday that sophisticated foreign military and intelligence services represent a far greater threat to America's burgeoning Internet economy than hackers who recently launched "denial of service" attacks against commercial Web sites.

Dan Kuehl, a professor at the National Defense University, said Russian and Chinese military theorists have clearly enunciated computer attack strategies aimed at sowing fear and crippling an adversary's military and commercial information infrastructure.

"The very same means that the cybervandals used a few weeks ago could also be used on a much more massive scale at the nation-state level to generate truly damaging interruptions to the national economy and infrastructure," Kuehl testified at the hearing on cyber threats and the economy.

Quoting two Chinese military theorists as saying that future wars " 'may be conducted in a sphere not dominated by military actions,' " Kuehl said a full-fledged cyberattack has not been launched "solely because no state or non-nation state actor has yet seen sufficient strategic advantage to be gained by doing so--and this condition will not last indefinitely."

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of a Senate panel on Y2K-related problems who presided over the joint House-Senate hearing, noted in opening remarks that Internet transactions are projected to grow from $8 billion this year to $1.5 trillion by 2003.

Calling the U.S. government "vulnerable" to cyberattack, Bennett asked at one point, "Am I overstressing it, looking for headlines and there aren't any?" Kuehl and other cybersecurity experts said absolutely not.

Fred Cohen, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratory who is credited with inventing the computer virus as a graduate student in the mid-1980s, said hackers do not have the sophistication to successfully attack the U.S. power grid, but the Russian military and intelligence services do.

"The Russian army has sufficient intelligence, weaponry, personnel, finance and other capabilities required to do such a job," Cohen said, adding that foreign intelligence services can legally scan and probe U.S. Internet sites "and there's nothing we can do to stop these activities."

John A. Serabian Jr., a CIA information operations official, said that beyond Russian and Chinese cyberwar doctrine, U.S. intelligence is "detecting with increasing frequency the appearance and adoption of computer and Internet familiarity" in the hands of terrorist organizations.

"The skills and resources of this threat group range from the merely troublesome to dangerous," Serabian said in a submitted statement. "As we know, Middle East terrorist groups--such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Osama bin Laden's organization--are using computerized files, e-mail, and encryption to support their organizations."

Serabian said foreign cyberattackers can easily obtain technology that enables them "to conceal points of origin by hopping through several intermediate way stations in cyberspace" and then "erase cyber-footprints from victim computers."

"The foreign cyber threat constitutes a means to harm U.S. national interests in a nontraditional way using nontraditional attacks," Serabian said. "It is transnational in origin, transcends geographic limitations and is wholly independent of military intervention."

-- Martin Thompson (, February 24, 2000

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