NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2004
Cyber Security Challenge to Media and Civic Groups
by Ira Wilsker, APCUG BOD,
Columnist for The Examiner in Texas and a Police Officer

It is that time of year again, and I remember what many of you said to me at this time last year. Several of my loyal readers commented a year ago “well if only we knew about it earlier” or some similar sentiment. Now I am giving the local media, civic groups, computer clubs, professional associations, schools at all levels, and colleges ample advance notice that National Cyber Security Day will again occur on October 31. Last year in this column, I mentioned that it was more important than ever that we secure our computers from attack, as it was only a matter of time until we suffered mass attacks on our critical cyber infrastructure.

Regrettably, the cyber attacks have not just started, but are well underway. I attended a national homeland security DACUM (developing a curriculum) in Houston, where a blue-ribbon panel of homeland security experts from a variety of backgrounds, including the FBI, CIA, military, local and state law enforcement and government agencies, DC area think tanks, and academia worked together to determine the competencies required of students seeking degrees in the various areas of homeland security. One of the participants cited a published continuum of terrorism comparing the frequency and intensity of acts of terrorism. At one end of the continuum was high intensity – low frequency “macro event”, such as the dastardly attacks on 9/11; at the other end is low intensity – high frequency “micro events” such as the viruses, worms, crackers, hackers, and Trojans that attempt to penetrate our personal computers on an extremely frequent basis. During one of the lunch breaks, we had a friendly academic discussion concerning the degree of damage occurring from a single macro attack compared to hundreds of thousands of simultaneous micro attacks, such has happened with the Code Red, Nimda, Sasser and other mass virus and Trojan attacks that crippled much of our cyber infrastructure. Countless billions of dollars in damage was done by these and other cyber attacks that effectively combined millions of vulnerable personal computers into a fearsome weapon that was launched at our vulnerable institutions. In this matter, I proposed that massive and coordinated micro attacks could potentially equal the effect of a single macro attack.

Another participant cited the recent case of a teenager who cracked into the air traffic control system, and had the ability to alter the images seen on controllers’ screens. While this miscreant was stopped before there was any serious damage, the potential for catastrophic damage was present. Now imagine a “what-if” scenario of terrorists bent on again wreaking havoc on our air commerce and society in a similar way. Already attacks have been recorded on the critical “SCADA” control systems that are utilized in almost all of our refineries, power distribution systems, pipelines, water works, and many other critical industries. There was a strong consensus that we need to harden our infrastructure from all forms of attack, including cyber attacks.

This is where my challenge comes in. I challenge the local and national media, along with the Rotary Clubs, Lions, Kiwanis, 4-H, Boy and Girl Scouts, schools, colleges, and other institutions to actively promote National Cyber Security Day. There is information and materials freely available on the official website at http://www.staysafeonline.info (note the “.info”). A variety of guides are available there for both home and business users, on a variety of topics such as computer security fundamentals, beginner’s guides to computer security, securing broadband and dialup connections, home network security, network security solutions, and computer security for businesses and other organizations. The ubiquitous “Top 10 Security Tips” is listed there, as well as a variety of packaged “Tech Talks”. Among the “Tech Talks” are “The CyberSmart! Curriculum … an Owner’s Manual for children's safe, responsible and effective use of technology”, Security Fundamentals, and “Protect Your Computer, Protect Your Country's Cyber-Infrastructure”. There is also a section linked on the main page that contains teaching materials for grades K through 12, which can be utilized by parents as well as schools.

Please do not let another Cyber Security Day pass without appropriate action, as the threats are very real and frightening. Utilize the resources on the website, as well as other local resources. Speakers may be available from local computer clubs (http://www.apcug.net), community or technical colleges, universities, law enforcement agencies, and other resources. I know from first hand experience that media, groups and organizations hunger for programs of vital interest and current content. Individuals need secure computers that will not be hijacked by terrorists for nefarious “macro” purposes, or by “micro” terrorists or crackers planting viruses or zombies on our computers to steal our passwords, or drain us financially by committing identity theft. Professional associations, including medical and legal groups, need to let their members know how to secure their sensitive personal data and records.

OK folks, for the third consecutive year I have pleaded with you to take advantage of the computer security benefits promoted by National Cyber Security Day, and its website at http://www.staysafeonline.info. I have secured my computer to the best of my ability, now the ball is in your court. Security is everybody’s business.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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