Thursday, July 28, 2005

Memo to IT security: Think globally, act immediately

William Jackson writes in

IT security is more complicated than packets, bytes and bits, a former White House adviser told security experts gathered this week for the Black Hat Briefings conference.

The economic, political and possibly even military consequences of a cyberattack extend beyond its immediate impact on networks and systems, said Bryan Cunningham, now a principal at the Denver law firm Morgan & Cunningham. In a worst-case scenario, a cyberattack launched against another country by a third party from compromised computers inside the United States could be construed as an act of war on the part of the United States.

"We could be backed into a real shooting war, theoretically," Cunningham said.

He added that the likelihood of such an event probably is not great.

"I don’t want to create a sense of panic or say this is likely to happen," Cunningham continued. But other countries have acknowledged they are developing cyberwarfare capabilities, and terrorist groups have demonstrated an interest in acquiring these skills. "Knowing this, you have to start assuming it can happen. You need to hope for the best but plan for the worst."

Planning for the worst was part of Cunningham’s job as a CIA officer and deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council for more than two years under Condoleezza Rice. He drafted portions of the Homeland Security Act — "the good parts," he says — and contributed to the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. He said the government is taking the threat of cyberwarfare seriously.


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