Combating cyber-terrorism

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia.

As many as 30 countries will be represented in Malaysia starting today at a global conference aimed at improving the world’s capacity to prevent and respond to a threat that many governments have only begun to acknowledge — cyber-terrorism. This event is the largest ministerial-level gathering ever organized against this threat.

Cyber-terrorism is starkly different from common Internet crimes like identity theft and money fraud in that it can involve use of technology to divert or destroy systems and infrastructure, cause injury or death and undermine economies and institutions. To accomplish their goals, cyber-terrorists target the computer systems that control air traffic, electric power grids, telecommunications networks, military command systems and financial transactions.

The world was shocked by the despicable attacks and loss of innocent life on Sept. 11, 2001, carried out by 19 airplane hijackers on a suicide mission. But that tragedy, horrific as it was, could be dwarfed by just one or two skilled Internet users who don’t even set foot in their target country. It is frightening to imagine the human and economic toll if the computer systems that control air traffic, nuclear power plants or major dams were brought down or thrown into confusion by cyber-terrorists.

Ironically, the more wired a country is, the more vulnerable it is to massive harm. Last year in small but highly wired Estonia, a three-week wave of signals from outside the country shut down the country’s water treatment plants, disrupted its banking system, attacked government agencies and threatened lasting harm with neither warning nor explanation.

After delivering the closing address at the World Conference on Information Technology in Texas two years ago, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came back to Malaysia preoccupied with how best to prevent and respond to these serious threats affecting global cyberspace. This is a particularly serious threat for Malaysians, since information technology is at the heart of our nation’s growing economy and these cyber threats could do us great harm.

After consulting experts in our region and leaders in global technology companies and academia, we took the first steps to establish the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Terrorism (IMPACT), an effort to coax the world’s governments into collaboration on cyber-security. Since the Internet knows no national boundaries, no country, acting alone, can adequately protect itself from cyber-terrorism.

The result is the first World Cyber-Security Summit, today through Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, bringing together top government officials from highly wired countries of the Americas, Europe and Asia, and from still developing parts of the world, as well as an impressive roster of academic and industry experts on Internet security.

IMPACT is unique because it is a public/private partnership. This is appropriate because the private sector and academia, not necessarily government organizations, currently have the necessary skills, knowledge and resources for keeping cyberspace safe.

While IMPACT is made up of governments of the world, its key partners will include private companies and individual experts who have the knowledge and capacity to prevent and respond to cyber dangers. The advisory body includes renowned academic experts — including a former cybersecurity adviser to the White House, leaders of companies like Symantec, Trend Micro, Kaspersky Lab, Oger Systems and F-Secure, and the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

IMPACT will offer its members training and skills development, create a center for security assurance and research, establish a global response center for rapid sharing of resources to assist governments during a cyber crisis, and promote common laws and law enforcement cooperation around cyber crimes.

Malaysia has contributed the seed money to get IMPACT started. Now we look to the United States, Europe, Middle Eastern nations and others to bring their interests and resources to the table. All civilized nations share an interest in combating these serious threats to cyberspace and preserving a safe and secure wired world.

Mohd Noor Amin is the chairman of IMPACT, the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Terrorism. IMPACT is the first global public-private cyber-security initiative.

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