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Special report: Cyberterrorism

It's a potential war out there online, say experts

US officials are playing down the prevalent threat posed by cyberterrorism, but countries around the world, including the UK, have been looking into the matter for some time and the very real threat it poses to business.

The European CIWS (conference on information warfare and security), due to be held on 8 July at Brunel University in Uxbridge, is a chance for scientists, researchers and those involved in the development of information warfare to exchange ideas and discuss new techniques and technologies.

"[Cyberterrorism] groups can cause tremendous damage if they choose to," said William Hutchinson, associate professor of information and computer science and executive chairman of the CIWS committee.

Electronic sit-ins, basically blocking access to a site, are an extremely effective way of creating havoc for businesses, according to Hutchinson.

"This sort of co-ordinated attack by a relatively small number of technically competent people can cause a lot of damage," said Hutchinson.

Viruses, many written maliciously to cause maximum damage, are also a real threat to all governments, companies and individuals with internet access.

"Viruses are a major problem for all of us," said a spokesman at antivirus firm Symantec. "Cyber attacks will become more common as hackers' skills further develop and an e-government system is likely to be a popular target."

But despite all the talk, governments and businesses are still not paying enough attention to security.

"Much attention to security is just lip service," said Hutchinson. "It is still treated as a cost, rather than an integral part of products and the operations of companies."

A CIA report leaked last month to the LA Times, which detailed China's plans to launch Cyber attacks against US business and military networks, has been branded a gross misrepresentation of the actual threat posed.

But following the 11 September attacks it is not surprising that the US is playing down the alleged threats.

Vince Cannistraro, former director of counterintelligence at the CIA, told IDG's News Service: "China is developing a cyber attack capability, but it appears it is a component of their overall military strategy, to be used in case of [conventional] war."


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