Feds Alert to Web Security Threat

Friday, 21 March 2003, 12:53 PM EST

As the Department of Homeland Security urges Americans to be on high alert for potential acts of cyberterrorism, many computer security experts say military conflict doesn't change the fact that the Net is already a pretty dangerous place.

"When it really gets down to it, we're getting security attacks on a daily basis," said Vincent Weafer, director of Symantec Security Response.

On an average day, the security software maker hears of five to 15 new viruses. In a typical year, it finds several thousand widespread vulnerabilities in computer systems. Web users and publishers fend off denial-of-service attacks and intruders seeking to steal crucial data on a daily basis.

Still, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's decision this week to raise the nation's threat level to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attacks, is causing computer security specialists to step up their vigilance.

Ridge said his agency "will continue to monitor the Internet for signs of a potential terrorist attack, cyberterrorism, hacking and state-sponsored warfare." The department also encouraged companies and individual Internet users to report unusual activity or intrusion attempts to agencies like the National Infrastructure Protection Center.

"We want to hear about probes, hacking attempts at sites and actual intrusions. We would rather hear about everything, and sift through to find ones that form part of a broader pattern and are more troubling," said David Wray, Homeland Security spokesman.

Although the department did not disclose information about specific acts of cyberterror to watch out for, Internet security and monitoring firms view the warning as a good reason to keep closer tabs on all suspicious activity.

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