- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

We are battling terrorism on all the traditional fronts land, air and sea. Yet we have begun to realize that, as in every war of the past century, advances in technology present us with new and vastly different fronts.
The next battle in the war on terrorism may be on the "cyber front." It offers relatively easy opportunities for our enemies, given that our nation now vitally depends upon computer and network infrastructures that control everything from our electric power grids to financial institutions. We have created vast, efficient systems that make our nation the envy of the world. But the very networked nature of those systems means a single, stealth attack launched from thousands of miles away could cause wholesale damage and destruction of government and civilian infrastructures.
In fact, extensive economic damage could result from a successful cyber attack and the attackers don't need visas, airline tickets or large amounts of money to inflict considerable harm. One person skilled in manipulating modest amounts of data, could potentially circumvent controls of a major dam, shut down electric power to a large portion of the nation, cripple emergency response communications in a major city, or disable aviation safety.
Yet our nation remains exceedingly exposed to cyber attack. America has moved neither fast enough nor far enough to secure these systems. In fact, a survey recently published by the Business Software Alliance points to this serious gap in preparedness. It shows that nearly 3 of 4 IT professionals, those closest to the cyber front, believe the federal government is not sufficiently prepared to deal with a major cyber attack.
Are terrorists capable of a cyber attack? It is abundantly clear from recent news stories that our enemies, including al Qaeda, know how to use information technology to conduct covert communications (such as hiding messages in otherwise innocent pictures). News accounts also have shown they have indeed targeted our critical infrastructures for attack.
We need to quickly devise and implement a national cyber security plan, a plan that is a partnership between the private and public sectors as mandated by President Bush. It must include federal, state and local officials, law enforcement agencies, the high-tech industry, researchers, and the private companies who operate the infrastructures.
In partnership, this group must immediately identify vulnerabilities, large and small, that could be exploited in cyber attacks. This clearly must be the most immediate task undertaken when the Department of Homeland Security is officially established. There then must be a concerted effort to devise and deploy technology solutions with the appropriate policies and procedures to targeted vulnerabilities.
At the same time, Congress and the federal government must allocate the funds required for these solutions, and they must be implemented as quickly as possible. And this must be done in a coordinated way, as envisioned in President Bush's plan unveiled last Tuesday. We must ensure that government agencies and the private sector be able to rapidly and securely communicate with each other, and that security solutions and policies work effectively across all our vulnerable systems, instead of a patchwork system that creates its own vulnerabilities along the way.
The good news is that we don't need to undertake the information age equivalent of the Manhattan Project to do this vital work. Much of the technological innovation necessary the hardware, software and the knowledge to implement them already exist. But now we must act decisively to defend the nation on the cyber front.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark (U.S. Army, retired) is currently managing director of merchant banking at the Stephens Group Inc., where he works in high-technology venture capital. He previously was both the supreme allied commander of the NATO forces in Europe and the commander in chief of the United States European Command. F. William (Bill) Conner is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Entrust Inc., a leading provider of enhanced Internet security products and solutions with technology deployments in more than 40 federal agencies and departments.

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