Protecting our critical infrastructures [AT&T Government Issue]
by Hope Katz Gibbs
AT&T Government Issue
THE BOMBINGS IN OKLAHOMA AND AT THE WORLD TRADE Center in New York injured and killed scores of people How many would be harmed if a terrorist tampered with a city’s water system, halted service on public transportation or altered information in a government database?
Scary thoughts. But could any of those scenarios actually happen? “Unfortunately, yes,” said Robert “Tom” Marsh, chairman of the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, and keynote speaker at the January 28 “Critical Infrastructure Issues Symposium,” sponsored by AT&T and hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Washington Chapter.
“We all know America is no stranger to terrorism,” Marsh said. “To this general manager point, luckily, our critical infrastructures have not been primary targets. In the past, you put a guard at the door and your assets were protected. Today, there is no door, or too many doors. And you can never be sure who’s going sophisticated pro to drop in for a visit by way of the Internet. Even amateurs have access to circuits around a optic cable on the technological tools needed to penetrate systems and cause trouble. The bank robbers of today may not even have to go to the bank. They can try robbing it from home with a PC.”
President Clinton created the Commission last July to identify threats to restore service (physical and cyber), consider vulnerabilities, and develop policy for protecting and assuring critical infrastructures. Marsh, designated to head the Commission, will lead 20 government and private industry experts.
The president isn’t the only one who is concerned. A Defense Department panel recently recommended $3 billion be spent in the next five years to improve the national telecommunications and computing infrastructure. “There is a need for extraordinary action,” the panel said in its report. “Current practices and assumptions are ingredients for a national disaster.”
Dozens of businesses and government agencies that share an interest in protecting the national infrastructure participated in the symposium. A variety of speakers addressed needs and shortfalls; they also talked about government and private sector roles and cooperation. The day-long event focused on eight national infrastructures which are considered vulnerable-telecommunications, electric power systems, water supply systems, banking and finance, transportation, oil and gas transportation, emergency services and government services.
The common link, though, is telecommunications. “I believe 70 percent of the solution will come from solving telecommunications infrastructure issues,” said Symposium Chairman Richard Lombardi, president, AT&T Government Markets. “Industry and government are going to have to come together to solve our critical infrastructure problems. AT&T is a major player in telecommunications, and we continue to work hard on security solutions. Most targeted agencies and industries have preferred to downplay or restrict any knowledge of attacks. We are hosting this event because it is critical we openly discuss the problem and find solutions together.”
The dialog will be ongoing, he said.
“The reality is, anybody with a laptop sitting at home can attempt to invade the government’s or a corporation’s network,” said symposium coordinator Emilio Tavernise of AT&T Government Markets. “There have been hundreds of thousands of these attempts. just as President Clinton saw the necessity of setting up a commission, we at AT&T see a need to make all businesses and government agencies aware of this threat. We’ll be holding several more of these forums to continue the on and be part of the solution.”