Friday, February 1, 2008

Daily Report

• According to the Associated Press, the new rules for the types of identification U.S. or

Canadian citizens must present to cross into the country should not cause significant delays and will not be strictly enforced at first. These rules come into effect on January 31. (See item 15)

• The Associated Press obtained hundreds of pages of heavily censored files detailing the February 2006 “Cyber Storm” war game conducted by the DHS with the help of numerous other government departments and agencies. The exercise was run to test the nation’s hacker defenses, simulating what were described as plausible, detailed attacks against the technology industry, transportation lines, and energy utilities by anti-globalization hackers. A second run, “Cyber Storm 2,” is planned for March. (See item 27)

Information Technology

27. January 31, Associated Press – (National) Trains, bloggers are threats in US drill. It is the government’s idea of a really bad day: Washington’s Metro trains shut down. Seaport computers in New York go dark. Bloggers reveal locations of railcars with hazardous materials. Airport control towers are disrupted in Philadelphia and Chicago. Overseas, a mysterious liquid is found on London’s subway. Those incidents were among dozens of detailed, mock disasters confronting officials rapid-fire in the U.S. government’s biggest-ever “Cyber Storm” war game, according to hundreds of pages of heavily censored files obtained by the Associated Press. The Homeland Security Department ran the exercise to test the nation’s hacker defenses, with help from the State Department, Pentagon, Justice Department, CIA, National Security Agency, and others. The laundry list of fictional catastrophes – which include hundreds of people on “No Fly” lists suddenly arriving at airport ticket counters – is significant because it suggests what kind of real-world trouble keeps people in the White House awake at night. Imagined villains include hackers, bloggers, and even reporters. After mock electronic attacks overwhelmed computers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an unspecified “major news network” airing reports about the attackers refused to reveal its sources to the government. Other simulated reporters were duped into spreading “believable but misleading” information that worsened fallout by confusing the public and financial markets, according to the government’s files. The $3 million, invitation-only war game simulated what the U.S. described as plausible attacks over five days in February 2006 against the technology industry, transportation lines, and energy utilities by anti-globalization hackers. The incidents were divided among categories: computer attacks, physical attacks, or psychological operations. The exercise had no impact on the real Internet. Officials said they were careful to simulate attacks only using isolated computers, working from basement offices at the Secret Service’s headquarters in downtown Washington. However, the government’s files hint at a tantalizing mystery: In the middle of the war game, someone quietly attacked the very computers used to conduct the exercise. Perplexed organizers traced the incident to overzealous players and sent everyone an urgent e-mail marked “IMPORTANT!” reminding them not to probe or attack the game computers. The government is organizing another multimillion-dollar war game, Cyber Storm 2, to take place in early March.

Communications Sector

28. January 31, Associated Press – (International) Indian outsourcing firms hit hard by Internet outage. India’s lucrative outsourcing industry struggled Thursday to overcome Internet slowdowns and outages after cuts in two undersea cables sliced the country’s bandwidth in half. The disruption – which has hit a swath of users from Egypt to Bangladesh – began to affect much of the Middle East on Wednesday, when outages caused a slowdown in traffic on Dubai’s stock exchange. The cables, which lie off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean, were snapped as the working day was ending in India on Wednesday and the impact was not immediately apparent. But by Thursday, the Internet was sluggish across the country with some users unable to connect at all and others frustrated by spotty service. The Internet Service Providers’ Association of India said the country had lost half its bandwidth. In all, users in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain were affected. Engineers in several countries were scrambling to reroute traffic to satellites and to other cables. The biggest impact to the rest of the world could come from the outages across India, where many U.S. companies outsource customer-service call centers and other back office operations. Officials said it could take a week or more to fix the cables, apparently cut north of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria. A top Egyptian telecommunications official said that workers would not know for sure what caused the cuts until they are able to get repair ships and divers to the area, though there was speculation a ship’s anchor was to blame. Rough weather and seas prevented repair ships from getting to the site Wednesday, the official said and it was unclear how soon they could get there. Even once the repair workers arrive at the site, it could take as long as a week to repair the cable, the official said. India has built up massive amounts of bandwidth in recent years and is likely to be able to handle the situation without major economic losses, analysts said.

29. January 30, Ars Technica – (International) US tops world Connectivity Scorecard despite broadband ills. When it comes to using information technology well, people power is as important as wires, chips, and radio signals. That is one of the assumptions driving the new Connectivity Scorecard benchmark put together by a researcher from the London Business School. The study found that the U.S. takes the worldwide lead on “connectivity” when measured in this way, but sub-par broadband infrastructure holds the country back. The study was sponsored by Nokia Siemens, and it attempts to measure how “usefully connected” countries are, not just how much raw infrastructure they possess. As the author put it, only “smart” usage “helps make Connectivity a driver of productivity gains and hence economic growth.” Because of this focus, the scorecard rankings look a bit different than other, similar charts. Korea comes in tenth, for instance, even though it is a top performer on most technology metrics. According to the research, though, “very high performance in infrastructure is not matched by correspondingly high scores on usage measures, especially by businesses.” Despite being docked for broadband, the U.S. skill set and deep level of IT use among businesses put the country on top. Sweden and Japan take the next two spots. The highest possible score was ten, and the fact that no country scored higher than a seven shows that there is plenty of room for growth. No country did well on all metrics, either. Even the U.S., which led the field, did not rank first in any of the main areas (business, consumer, and government), and the report points out that certain functions like mobile banking are actually “better developed in African countries than in the U.S. or Canada.” Among developing economies, Russia and Malaysia took the top two spots for their high literacy rates and wide usage of IT.