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  • No Sure Cure For Cyber-angst
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 12:45 PM on Oct 27, 2011

    So far, there is no fool-proof cyber-security, but ideas are emerging to soften the impact of Internet attacks. They include setting up parallel Internets, creating faster fixes for problems in existing networks and practicing the basics of digital hygiene. The latter could solve 85% of network attack problems, according to a recent government study.

    Well-monitored cloud-computing appears to be an intermediate option.

    “There are ways to protect what we have [in the cloud], we provide information assurance [IA] and we also have ways to harden systems,” says Scott Winship, a veteran team leader for prototypes at Northrop Grumman. “But the minute you think you have it licked, someone will break into it. You have to go back and close those doors. Usually IA happens incrementally as threats are addressed. You build your way out. As the hardware gets faster and the software gets leaner, you solve problems from the core. That’s the way you build it.”

    The growing use of unmanned and airborne platforms will increase the need for secure networks and communications as operators struggle to close the “air gaps” that can be exploited by hackers.

    “If you want to do something, you can do it unmanned,” he says. “But there is very little [in hand] that can knit all these things together. We’ve got to push real-time information, net it, understand it and then re-task it in real time. As we move toward long-range strike and greater-capability UAVs, it becomes more and more important to do that.

    “There are a lot of ways to communicate [that are open to innovation] such as laser and secure comms,” he says. “The U.S. Air Force and Navy will have to have something that can net all the fifth-generation [stealth aircraft] into all this. Starting over [with a parallel Internet] is always an option, but not a very good one in this economic environment.”

    A senior FBI official suggested separate, more secure Internet-compatible architectures during the Information Systems Security Association conference in Baltimore.

    “The challenge with the Internet is that you don’t know who’s launching the attack, says Shaw Henry, the FBI’s executive assistant director. Identifying who was in the network, what they did and when they did it is crucial to keeping those networks safe, he says. A solution would be to establish networks that remove the cloak of anonymity and into which only trusted user can enter. Henry describes an alternative architecture that runs alongside the existing Internet, but uses different interfaces and algorithm sets.

    However, those who use supposedly secure Scada networks that manage complicated, automatic industrial manufacturing and distribution processes also have suffered attacks, including the effects of the Stuxnet cyberworm that is still affecting Iran’s nuclear industry.

    At the same conference, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, chief of Cyber Command, noted that Duqu, an evolved variant of Stuxnet, is now on the loose. He contends that the Duqu program can steal the necessary data to create an even more destructive version of the worm.

    “Cyber Pilot,” a program designed to help defend defense and communications infrastructure against cyberattack, is being extended by 60 days to let evaluators determine if the Defense Department’s collaborative program is a success or not. The program was to be completed in September. Pentagon officials also will consult with its federal partners in the project.

    Tags: ar99, Northrop

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