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Fred Cate
Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research

James Boyd
IU Maurer School of Law -- Bloomington

Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009

IU center working to quell 'cybergeddon'

Jan. 22, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Cyber attacks pose one of the greatest threats to the United States, lagging behind only nuclear warfare and weapons of mass destruction in terms of their potential devastation, FBI experts said earlier this month.

Indiana University is assisting in research and education to help prevent such attacks on American infrastructure, said Fred H. Cate, a distinguished professor of law at the IU Maurer School of Law -- Bloomington and director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. In 2008, IU was recognized by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research.

"While cyber attacks pose the greatest threat to the United States in terms of potential devastation caused, they are in fact first in terms of prevalence," Cate said. "IU is investing heavily in identifying and blocking those attacks and in ensuring that we build the tools and provide the education so that individuals and institutions can protect themselves against catastrophic attacks."

Cate's comments follow an Internet security conference in New York in which several federal agencies warned of a potential 'cybergeddon,' an attack that could paralyze the international economy and other infrastructure with the click of a button.

During the conference, Shawn Henry, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, said terrorist groups want to create an electronic 9/11 "inflicting the same kind of damage on our country, on all our countries, on all our networks, as they did in 2001."

Cate, who was recently named one of the world's top computer privacy experts by Minnesota Privacy Consultants, said smaller-scale cyber attacks happen with more frequency than most probably imagine and often target the computers and networks of law-abiding individuals and organizations.

"Organized attacks by governments and terrorist groups against U.S. computers occur on a daily basis," Cate said. "What is even more frightening is that those attacks target both public- and private-sector computers and often use the same techniques that ordinary fraudsters and hackers employ."

While a large-scale cyber attack has yet to paralyze American systems like bank communications, air traffic control programs, and water treatment management systems, cyber terrorists have not stopped trying, Cate said, and attackers have held some networks hostage.

For that reason, the CACR is conducting major research initiatives focusing on vulnerabilities, such as phishing attacks and other efforts to defraud users into providing passwords and other personal information.

Researchers at IU's Advanced Network Management Lab also track, and in some cases block, the spread of network attacks. IU's cybersecurity experts regularly advise members of Congress, government agencies, and the private sector on how best to combat potential attacks.