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U.S. computer networks at risk of attack, panel is told

Computer-dependent national defenses have become highly vulnerable to cyber attacks from hackers, criminals, terrorists, and foreign governments, the General Accounting Office told a House Armed Services subcommittee yesterday. Terrorists, international criminals, and foreign intelligence services have begun targeting computer systems, GAO information security expert Robert Dacey told the subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities. He said the number of reported computer hacking incidents rose from 9,859 in 1999 to 82,094 in 2002 and to 76,404 for the first half of 2003. “The speed and accessibility that create the enormous benefits of the computer age, if not properly controlled, allow individuals and organizations to inexpensively eavesdrop on or interfere with these operations from remote locations,” Dacey said. The remote-controlled networked computers that control power grids, gas and oil pipelines, dams, refineries and other infrastructure are “potential targets for individuals bent on causing mass disruption and physical damage,” he said. Purdue University computer security expert Eugene Spafford told the subcommittee that the U.S. military’s dependence on computerized resources and communications, particularly those similar to readily available commercial programs, makes them vulnerable to hackers. Full Story

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