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New U.S. tack to defend power grid; Lawmakers are on alert as hackers increase attacks on US infrastructure

(The Christian Science Monitor) For nearly five years, the US government has struggled to guard the nation’s electric grid, drinking water, and other critical infrastructure from cyberattack. But as hackers continue to infiltrate such systems, and as reports surface of a surge in computer attacks on the electric grid, experts and lawmakers have an urgent message for the Bush administration: Cyber security defenses need an overhaul.

US lawmakers are pressing for a new approach that focuses more on systems that can rebound if infiltrated than on building ever-stronger “fire- walls” to keep hackers out.

On Tuesday, lawmakers on a House Homeland Security subcommittee are expected to unveil a blue-ribbon commission charged with developing a new national cybersecurity strategy in time to offer the next president.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, is close to unveiling a new cybersecurity approach of its own, an administration official told the Monitor. National Security Agency expertise may be deployed to help protect vital control systems of the electric grid and other key infrastructure, The Baltimore Sun reported last month.

“Times are changing very quickly here, and cybersecurity that was good enough even a couple of years ago – the strategy and approach – is obsolete,” says Scott Borg, director of the US Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit security think tank that advises government and industry.

“We do have a growing problem as our adversaries focus on critical infrastructure,” concurs Amit Yoran, CEO of Netwitness, a network security firm, and former director of DHS’s National Cyber Security Division. In the event of a cyberattack on any critical piece of infrastructure, “what we need is a layered defense in which the overall system is still available – and not a systemic failure.”

Both men have been tapped to serve on the new congressional commission.

Driving such concerns are reports that malicious attacks are rising on specialized computer-control systems that open and shut valves on natural-gas pipelines, throw circuit breakers on power lines, and make telecommunications and defense networks, nuclear-power plants and hydro dams do their jobs.

If hackers half a world away break into and commandeer these “supervisory control and data acquisition,” or SCADA, systems, then the US grid, pipelines, and other key infrastructure connected to the Internet are vulnerable to interruption or damage, experts say.

Danger to SCADA systems for the electric grid, for instance, was highlighted in a 2002 National Research Council report. At a key meeting in July 2003, officials from the US Department of Energy, DHS, the national laboratories, and other agencies convened to develop a national cybersecurity plan.

Despite that and other efforts since 9/11 to protect control systems from cyberattack, “the federal government lacks an overall strategy for coordinating public and private sector efforts,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress earlier this month.

Some experts describe a patchwork defense that has many gaps – and they note that malicious attacks, directed in particular at the electric grid, are growing.

Internet attacks on the 100 electric utility clients protected by SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based cybersecurity firm, leaped 90 percent this year – from 43 attacks per utility per day at the beginning of the year to 93 since May, company officials reported this month. That’s about double the rate for other industries SecureWorks protects.

The US has been “in a race against time” since early 2005, when the attention of “black hat” hackers shifted to focus more on probing and exploiting SCADA control-system weaknesses of electric utilities, says Mr. Borg. Yet lights have mostly stayed on – a testament to the notion that industry and government still appear to be ahead in the race.

In a bid to plug gaps, the National Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) in June was put in charge of grid reliability. It has proposed eight new cybersecurity requirements that are already being adopted by the electric-power industry. Those standards, though, were attacked as inadequate by experts during an Oct. 17 congressional hearing.

Known examples of hackers infiltrating the grid and taking parts of it down are rare. Such cases exist, security experts insist, though nondisclosure contracts prohibit them from talking about them to the press.

A year ago, Ira Winkler, a security expert taking part in an exercise to test the cyberdefenses of a nuclear-power plant, used his computer to hack into the plant’s control system. After a few hours, the whole thing was called off because the “simulation” was too successful. Mr. Winkler had wrested control of key systems from plant engineers and could do what he wanted with the plant.

“A lot of people have stock answers saying everything’s just fine, but the point is, if the underlying systems are vulnerable, that’s all there is to it, says Mr. Winkler, a former NSA cryptanalyst who is now president of Internet Security Advisors Group, an Internet security company.

In March 2005, security experts in the electric utility industry reported hackers were targeting the grid and had gained access to control systems, the GAO said last year. In a few cases, the cyberintrusions “caused an impact,” although no serious damage occurred, it said.

Even so, a video released last month illustrates the potential danger to the power grid, experts say. While in the past, most had imagined a cyberattack might shut down patches of the US grid for a few days at worst, But the video – which shows a demonstration by the Idaho National Laboratory – depicts a large electric generator shaking violently, spraying metal parts, and spewing smoke before grinding to a stop.

The method of attack used in that demonstration could be replicated to destroy more and larger equipment, several experts say. Damage from such an attack would not be easy to repair quickly, because parts such as turbines are often huge, take a long time to build, and are made mostly overseas.

“There’s a great danger right now that government will spend a lot of money trying to provide better perimeter defenses around the e-mail systems of government, when they should be thinking a lot more about critical infrastructure like the grid,” Borg says.

A destructive attack could darken parts of the US for months, costing hundreds of billions of dollars and many lives, Borg’s group estimates.

As soon as the vulnerability was identified, DHS alerted electric utilities nationwide and provided a fix. But it is not clear how widely the utilities applied the “mitigation measures” in the six months since the video, or even whether the NERC has the power to order a mandatory patch, says an Oct. 17 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from Reps. James Langevin (D) of Rhode Island, Michael McCaul (R) of Texas, and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D) of Texas.

“We got the information into the hands of people that needed to know it,” says Robert Jamison, DHS undersecretary for National Protection & Programs. “Currently, [utilities] are not a required [to respond], but industry does have a vested interest in these mitigations. We’ll continue to monitor to see if we need to make it a requirement.”

A spokesman for the electric industry says the industry is working hard on the cybersecurity issue and is moving at full speed to implement necessary fixes.

“Anytime we’re adding something that’s important enough to have effects on the system, reliability is the key issue,” says Ed Legg, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities that supply 70 percent of the nation’s power. “There is every incentive to do this. Our members are taking it very seriously.”

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October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

Japan justice minister claims Al-Qaeda connection; “It is not only about terrorism. If someone is involved in a crime in Japan, they will be deported and their fingerprints will be on a database, so we can stop them the next time they try to re-enter”

(The Straits Times) TOKYO – JAPAN’S justice minister said on Monday that a friend of a friend was a member of Al-Qaeda and had entered the country on various fake passports – justifying a new system for fingerprinting foreigners on entry to the country.

Mr Kunio Hatoyama said the man had been involved in a bomb attack on Bali and that he personally had received a warning to stay away from the island for safety reasons.

It was not clear which bombing he was referring to. An attack in 2002 killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists, while another series of bombings in 2005 killed 20 people.

‘My friend’s friend is a member of Al-Qaeda,’ Mr Hatoyama told a news conference on Monday.

‘I have never met him, but I heard that two or three years ago he came to Japan several times,’ he added.

Need for fingerprint system

Mr Hatoyama said the man had entered the country on various passports, an example that he said showed the need for a new system for fingerprinting foreigners at immigration set to start on Nov 20.

‘Each time he used different passports and was able to disguise himself with different beards so that he could not be recognised among all the foreigners,’ Mr Hatoyama said of the Al- Qaeda member.

Almost all non-Japanese will be required to give fingerprint scans and have digital photographs taken on arrival at Japan’s international airports and ports from next month – a plan that has sparked anger among the country’s more than two million foreign residents.

Japan defines a terrorist as a person likely to commit, prepare for or facilitate ‘a criminal act for the purpose of intimidation of the general public and of government’, according to the justice ministry website.

The Japanese government plans to check visitors’ fingerprints against international databases to seek out potential terrorists, Mr Hatoyama said.

The new immigration checks are based on the ‘US Visit’ system introduced in the United States after the Sept 11 attacks.

But Hatoyama added that crime prevention was also a major aim of the new policy.

‘It is not only about terrorism. If someone is involved in a crime in Japan, they will be deported and their fingerprints will be on a database, so we can stop them the next time they try to re-enter,’ he said.

Mr Hatoyama expressed opposition to the pro-immigration stance of his predecessor, Jinen Nagase, who called for more foreign workers to make up the shortfall as Japan’s population ages and shrinks. — REUTERS

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

Fargo police evacuate half a block after suspicious item found; A coffee shop owner found what looked like a computer with wires running to a mannequin’s head

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Police evacuated an area covering about half a block in downtown Fargo after a coffee shop owner found what looked like a computer with wires running to a mannequin’s head. The area bomb squad checked the item and found it harmless.

Nancy Nerland, who owns the Moxie Java coffee shop, found the item behind her store early Monday morning, police said. Sgt. Mike Bernier said authorities were erring on the side of caution, and they called in the Red River Valley bomb squad. Surrounding businesses and a few apartment buildings were evacuated.

Lt. Joel Vettel said the bomb squad hit the suspicious device with powerful jets of water, and an examination showed it was harmless.

He said another mannequin’s head was found a half-block away, at the state’s only abortion clinic, jammed on an exhaust pipe, and a third mannequin’s head was found outside one of the federal buildings.

Federal officials have joined the investigation to find out who is responsible.

“What the person’s intent in doing that was, we do not know at this point. Obviously, it was alarming to at least one person, if not more,” Vettel said.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

Iran navy in suicide attack pledge; An Iranian naval commander Monday said his forces are willing to carry out suicide missions when facing enemy forces

(CNN) — An Iranian naval commander Monday said his forces are willing to carry out suicide missions when facing enemy forces in the Persian Gulf, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.

“If necessary, we will use the element of martyrdom-seeking and we will become people of Ashura,” Fars quoted Gen. Ali Fadavi as saying. Ashura refers to the day marking the death of Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, who is revered by Shiite Muslims.

Fadavi said volunteer forces of theIslamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval division have long emulated the role of Hossein Fahmideh, a 13-year-old suicide bomber during the Iran-Iraq war. Fahmideh strapped himself with explosives and blew up an Iranian tank during the 1980-88 war, sealing his fate as a national hero in Iran.

“The Basiji (volunteer) forces, by following the steps of the martyr Fahmideh … have always been martyrdom-seeking and willing to give their lives before God,” Fadavi said, according to Fars.

“This is one of the secrets of the success of the sacred defense campaign (during the Iran-Iraq war) and even now, this spirit is prevalent throughout the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Fadavi noted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is undertaking various operations to upgrade the combat abilities of the volunteer forces in naval warfare, Fars reported.

His comments come amid an increase in tensions with the United States.

Last week, the United States announced it was imposing stiff sanctions against Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force — which was designated a terrorist-supporting organization — as well as a number of Iranian banks and companies, accusing them of supporting nuclear proliferation and terror-related activities.

Earlier this year Iran held captive a group of British sailors and marines it accused of violating its territorial waters. The 14 men and one woman were eventually released after being forced to apologize on Iranian television.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | 2 Comments

U.S. embassy terror plot uncovered; U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan on full alert after terror plot

(CNN) — Authorities in Azerbaijan recently uncovered a radical Islamic terror plot against the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Baku, prompting the facility to close its doors to the public Monday, Azerbaijan and U.S. officials told CNN.

As a precaution, Britain also shut its embassy in Baku to the public on Monday “following security concerns nearby,” Britain’s Foreign Office said.

The terror plot was unraveled after a weekend raid outside Baku that netted several suspected members of the radical group, two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified and a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry told CNN.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stressed that the details “are still unfolding,” and the threat “may or may not be” linked to the Saturday raid.

“There were some specific and credible threat information concerning the embassy and plans by militants to in some way do harm to individuals in and around the U.S. Embassy there,” McCormack said, noting that no specific individuals were targeted.

Several days ago, an Azerbaijani army officer who had connections to a radical Islamic group seized four assault rifles, a machine gun and 20 hand grenades from his military unit and hid them in the outskirts of Baku, the ministry spokesman and U.S. officials said.

Government security forces tracked down the group and arrested several members during a sweep on Saturday in the village of Mastaga, about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Baku, the spokesman said.

One suspected member of the militant group resisted arrest and was killed in the sweep, the spokesman said. Several others are still at large, he added.

He said the terror plot also targeted Azerbaijani government buildings.

The U.S. Embassy in Baku issued a warden message warning Americans in Azerbaijan to take precautions.

“While there is no information at this time that other American or Western interests in Azerbaijan are being targeted, the U.S. Embassy encourages Americans to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to bolster their own personal security,” it said.

Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic that borders the Caspian Sea, and lies just north of Iran.

McCormack said U.S. authorities are working closely with their counterparts in Baku and will determine when normal embassy operations will resume. He said he expects the embassy to limit its operations on Tuesday, as well.

U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan on full alert after terror plot

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Oct. 29 (UPI) — The U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan was on full alert Monday after security officials in the country said they thwarted an attack by Islamic radicals.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of National Security said it prevented a “large-scale horrifying attack against government structures and diplomatic missions,” including the U.S. Embassy in the capital city, Baku, The Financial times reported.

The ministry said it conducted a raid and made arrests near the village of Mashtagi about 20 miles from Baku early Saturday.

An embassy spokesman said the mission was on limited operations Monday and ceased consular services.

“We are under constant threat everywhere and we are very aware of it,” the spokesman said.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

Terrorists frantically concerned about Olmert’s health ‘We don’t want him to die before following through with his promises’

(World Net Daily) JERUSALEM – Palestinian terrorists today expressed frantic concern for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s health following media reports he would hold a news conference announcing the diagnosis of a medical ailment.

At the news conference, held at 1 p.m. Jerusalem time, Olmert told reporters he will undergo a surgical procedure in the coming months to remove the early stages of a “cancerous tumor” in his prostate.

Olmert told the packed news conference he would continue with his duties as prime minister and will not undergo chemotherapy or radiation. He said the tumor was detected 10 days ago during a routine checkup, shortly before a trip to Russia.

The prime minister’s doctors said the microscopic tumor was very treatable and the surgery was not urgent.

Prior to the press conference, television channels and radio networks today dramatically announced Olmert would disclose an unspecified illness.

Following the reports, WND’s Jerusalem bureau received calls from almost a dozen terrorists, including senior leaders, asking whether the online news agency had any information about Olmert’s illness and expressing concern for the prime minister.

The terrorists were all members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the declared military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. The Brigades, together with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, took responsibility for every suicide bombing in Israel the past three years and has carried out thousands of shootings, grenade attacks and rocket launchings aimed at Jewish civilian population centers.

“I don’t want him to leave office or die before he has the occasion to follow through with his promises of granting amnesty,” said one leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Olmert in June granted amnesty to nearly 200 members of the Brigades and has been considering offering amnesty to hundreds more on condition the gunmen disarm and refrain from terror attacks.

According to media reports, most terrorists granted amnesty in June failed to disarm. Many reportedly have been involved in a spate of attacks.

Several terror leaders calling WND for information expressed fear Olmert won’t be able to attend a U.S.-brokered November Israeli-Palestinian summit at which the Israeli prime minister is widely expected to outline a Palestinian state. There has been a flurry of media reports that Olmert is contemplating handing over sections of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, as well.

Earlier this month, Olmert hinted he would be willing to divide Jerusalem, asking during a speech whether it was “really necessary” to retain certain Arab neighborhoods in Judaism’s capital.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

Honduras finds radioactive material in container bound for Hong Kong

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduras authorities have found strong traces of radioactive material in a Hong Kong-bound shipping container carrying steel debris from an Atlantic coast port, officials said on Monday.

During a security scan on Sunday, officials detected high readings of radioactivity emanating from the container at the Puerto Cortes port, 115 miles north of Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa.

“We immediately declared an alert and have seized the container for inspection,” Edwin Araque, the manager of Honduras’ port authority, said on Monday.

The container belonged to a local company.

Docks and ports across the world are scanned for materials that could be used to produce nuclear or dirty bombs. Puerto Cortes was declared a safe port by the United States more than a year ago.

A government official said the material found in the container was Cesium-137 and could have come from a hospital.

It is often used to sterilize medical equipment and also has a wide range of industrial applications. In March, Spain halted production at a steel plant after workers found the material in a truck.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

“Jihad Way” comment reveals growing fight over Virginia’s new state immigration commission; Islamisist Esam Omesh of the Muslim American Society booted for statements favoring “The Jihad Way”

October 30, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

Conspirator of USS Cole attack freed from prison; US Criticizes Yemen on Terrorism

(WIKI News) Jamal al-Bedawi, one of the planners of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 American Navy personnel and injured 39 others in Yemen, has been freed from a prison in Sanaá, the capital of Yemen after he “pleaded allegiance” to the president of the country, and will be kept under house arrest with extreme security.

Al-Bedawi, who was serving a death sentence for his role in the attack, escaped from a Yemeni prison in February of 2006 along with another plotter of the attack, Fawaz al-Rabeiee, who has yet to be captured. Al-Bedawi turned himself in to authorities just over two weeks ago. 21 other militants, 13 of which who were members of al-Qaeda, also escaped from the prison.

United States officials have described the move as “disappointing.” “This action is inconsistent with a deepening of our bilateral counter-terrorism co-operation. We have communicated our displeasure to Yemeni officials,” said a U.S. National Security Council spokesman.

There has been no official information has yet to be released to the press about the decision or the conditions of al-Bedawi’s release.

Yemen denied on Sunday media reports that a man convicted over the al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Navy ship Cole in 2000 had been set free.

US Criticizes Yemen on Terrorism

(AP) The White House sharply criticized Yemen on Friday for releasing one of the al-Qaida masterminds of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors.

Jamal al-Badawi, who is wanted by the FBI, was convicted in 2004 of plotting, preparing and helping carry out the USS Cole bombing and received a death sentence that was commuted to 15 years in prison.

He and 22 others, mostly al-Qaida fighters, escaped from prison in 2004. But al-Badawi was granted his freedom after turning himself in 15 days ago and pledging loyalty to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a senior security official in Yemen disclosed on Thursday.

‘The United States is dismayed and deeply disappointed in the government of Yemen’s decision not to imprison Badawi,’ National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

‘This action is inconsistent with a deepening of our bilateral counterterrorism cooperation. We have communicated our displeasure to Yemeni officials and will work with the Yemeni government to ensure Al Badawi is held accountable for his past terrorist actions,’ he said.

October 30, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment

‘Terrorists of the future on web’; Terrorists of the future will use the Internet to wage attacks and wreak havoc across the globe, according to a US terror expert

(The SUN) Former US army intelligence chief Dan Verton (shown) believes the next generation of Al Qaeda will be clever, net-savvy youngsters.

And he fears it will take a crippling attack on the scale of 9/11 before world leaders act and realise what a sleeping beast the web is.

He said: “The next generation of terrorists won’t be mindless hordes of thugs living a hand-to-mouth existence in Afghanistan.

“They will look and act very differently to the current generation.

“The young kids that they are radicalising today are studying mathematics, computer science and engineering.

“They will grow up and realise ‘I’m too valuable to stuff dynamite around my waste and walk into a crowded cafe.’

“And they will think very differently about how they can attack their perceived enemies.

“The internet will be another tool in their toolbox.”

Former Marine Corps chief Verton – who has written a number of books on the subject – has given speeches to the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, US Secret Service and the United Nations about cyber terrorism.

And he reckons it’s only a matter of time until the web fanatics strike.

“An attack of this nature is very likely because the technology base is already there to take advantage of,” he said.

“All you need is Microsoft Windows and a public internet connection.

“The only reason we haven’t seen one yet is because they haven’t put together an operation with the people in the right places at the moment.

“My big worry is that the next time we see a power failure or the lights flicker on the Tube or subway, that won’t be the end of it.

“They will try to use power failures to get people trapped in locations where they will be sitting ducks for a follow-up attack in the traditional sense.”

There are safeguards in place today to stop hackers taking over the country’s vital systems.

But Verton believes that the new breed of terrorist will be able to navigate their way around them.

He added: “All of our critical infrastructure depends on a computer that’s hooked up to a network

“If you can take either of those down and you have major problems.”

Verton says the problem in the US has been getting big business to foot the bill of billions needed to develop the software to cover against such an eventuality.

And he is calling on the UK government to act now and not follow the same path.

He added: “If I knew our governments and the people who own and operate these systems were doing all that was necessary to secure them I’d be OK, but I don’t think it’s happening.

“They don’t see the threat because it hasn’t happened yet – and that’s why we’re at our weakest right now.”

October 30, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror | Leave a comment