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Cyber front; Software assaults can carry hard punch.


The mathematical and software wizards who helped construct today's interconnected world of high-powered computers set out to tame information, and find new and better ways to handle the piles of data that characterize the Information Age. But the tools that power today's world - and which govern the complex and vital workings of energy production and distribution, health care, finance, commerce, and our military infrastructure - are not immune to the machinations of software devils and demons who would bend electrons to their nefarious purposes.

This week's cyber attacks on commercial and government Web sites in South Korea and the U.S., which a preliminary investigation indicates have their origins in North Korea, are just the latest example of efforts to use today's technology not to improve the human condition, but to score points - and inflict real damage - in the ages-old game of geopolitical dominance.

Sometimes, the efforts of amateur hackers are undertaken for the thrill of demonstrating what can be done, with little or no lasting harm. These attacks, whether or not they involve the North Korean government, are clearly not harmless or innocent in intent.

The use of zombie "bot-nets" to cripple Web sites through "denial of service" attacks is a common and relatively cheap means of cyber assault. Although various U.S. government agencies have been reluctant to discuss the impact of the attacks, it seems clear that some sites were temporarily knocked offline.

No one welcomes such attacks, yet, by exposing existing weaknesses and vulnerabilities in this nation's computer systems and networks - commercial and governmental - the attacks can be seen as carrying something of a silver lining.

In the field of computer security, as in military defense, simulated attacks and war games are no true substitute for real-life offensives mounted by enemies whose strategies and motives are unclear and whose resources cannot be fully known. Cyber warfare - whether it originates from North Korea or the hard drive of a domestic radical - constitutes a kind of "live fire" exercise from which the U.S. government can learn better defenses.

The governments of North Korea and Iran, along with other adversaries of the U.S., have made it abundantly clear that they will use any means at their disposal to infiltrate, weaken and disrupt our nation's economic and political fabric. No one should be surprised if they are proven to have turned to cyberspace as one such avenue of approach.

America must deploy the full range of its wetware - human ingenuity and expertise - to ensure that such cyber threats are defeated every time.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 10, 2009
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