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San Diegans fighting new war from their computer terminals
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 01:26:17 -0500 (CDT)
Forwarded by: Clark Staten <sysop () emergency com>
September 23, 2001
Like so much else before 9.11.01, it plays back to us now like a
black-and-white movie. Remember the cyberspace manhunt for the kid
computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, then on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list?
It gripped the world in 1999, until Tsutomu Shimomura, the eccentric
genius at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, finally outsmarted the
kid and ended his knockdown raids on U.S. corporations and
What's changed since then in computer terrorism and counterterrorism?
Everything, but not as much as we might wish.
The hero Shimomura left the supercomputer campus to live at Lake
Tahoe. "One of the smartest people on the planet," as colleague Sid
Karin calls him, Shimomura is revered as a master computer sleuth and
takes on only cases that intrigue him.
And Mitnick? Out of jail now, he conducts an early-morning computer
show on Los Angeles radio.
Meanwhile, computer encryption has become the workaday mask of
terrorism. Federal surveillance of the Internet has become a covert
industry. This nation's 13 federal intelligence agencies are being
told to streamline and cooperate in war.
Two days after the attacks in New York and Washington, the Combating
Terrorism Act of 2001 was introduced as an amendment to a federal
appropriations bill and quietly passed the Senate. It may become part
of the legislative package coming to Congress from Attorney General
John Ashcroft. Section 832 is at its crux: It would enhance the U.S.
government's powers to spy on suspects' communications in cyberspace.
In the short space of two years since Kevin Mitnick was on the run
across America like a fleeing train robber, this is not entertainment
anymore. This is a war for the life of the world's most powerful
nation. Yet under restrictions against such undercover spy networks as
those from which John Le Carre wrote magic yarns, our 13 intelligence
agencies now may garner as much as 70 percent of their information
from open source intelligence Web sites (OSINT).
You may sample these Web sites, recently devoted largely to rescue and
anti-terrorism efforts, by logging on to http://www.intellnet.org, or
http://www.emergency.com. So can Kevin Mitnick and the rest of the
world, including hackers who in recent days have bedeviled the
Chicago-based emergency.com with viruses and so-called Trojan horses,
even damaging one of their servers.
One reasonably wonders: Are these Osama bin Laden's hackers?
Both in secret intelligence personnel and in institutional power like
that of UCSD, the Supercomputer Center and the FBI's Regional Computer
Forensic Lab, San Diego is in the midst of America's war against
computer terrorism. Some online slip that renders bin Laden vulnerable
would stand in history like the code breaking that helped make the
Allies victors in World War II.
These are pivotal intelligence matters about which most sensible
Americans would prefer, for the moment, to know rather less than more.
It is enough to know that there are formidable San Diegans already
long active at the top of this curve.
At the Supercomputer Center, Tom Perrine leads the security group. He
recently was honored quietly in law enforcement and intelligence
circles as San Diego's private sector investigator of the year. A year
earlier, the same award went to Abraham Singer, a programmer analyst
at the Supercomputer Center. (Each year, one award goes to a law
enforcement officer and one to the private sector.)
Erin Kenneally, an administrative specialist at the center who is also
a lawyer, is especially revered among San Diego judges. She
specializes in computer forensics. Defense attorneys in computer
criminal cases manage usually to arrive in court well enough versed in
computerspeak. Judges call on her to provide seminars to bring them up
Also at the center, Mihir Bellare, an associate professor, focuses on
the mathematics of encryptography as a field of computer security.
Another programmer analyst, and two colleagues -- Stefan Savage and
Geoff Voelker -- study denial-of-service attacks in which computer
servers are overwhelmed and disabled.
Their work and that of thousands more may never entertain us like the
Kevin Mitnick case. But they will help save America.
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- San Diegans fighting new war from their computer terminals InfoSec News (Sep 24)