PERSONAL COMPUTING With most of the civilized world still anxious from the recent hijacked airliners and the more recent anthrax poisonings, do we also need to worry about cyberattacks?
Is there any connection between the burgeoning computer hacking and virus activity and Sept. 11 and its aftermath?
The answer to this is not so clear. What is clear is that America's critical information-technology infrastructure is being attacked. Though no lives have been lost, huge amounts of money are being wasted trying to ward off and recover from the onslaught.
In 2001 the rate of hacker attacks - attempts to gain unauthorized access to a computer system or its data - is more than double that of the previous year, according to the latest figures from CERT, the government-- funded computer emergency group at Carnegie Mellon University.
The cost is particularly high for cleaning up after attacks from viruses and worms - malicious computer code often sent through e-mail that can, at worst, destroy all the data on a computer system. The worldwide cost reached $17.1 billion in 2000, a 41 percent increase over the previous year, according to Computer Economics, an information technology research firm.
Businesses have most to lose, but individuals are at risk too. Before last year, despite heavy Internet use, I rarely saw a virus. Lately I have been subjected to an average of one attack a week, all of which have been thwarted, thus far, by anti-virus software and my cautious handling of e-mail attachments.
Nobody has yet established a link between cybervandalism such as this and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. There doesn't seem to be any significant change in malicious Internet activity related to Sept. 11, says Marty Lindner of CERT. Recognizing the threat, however, President Bush just created a government panel to look at ways to protect against cyberterrorism.
Circumstantial evidence indicates that many Internet attacks may be coming from abroad. A large percentage of the e-mail messages I have received with virus or worm attachments, for instance, appear to originate from those who have only a tenuous grasp, at best, of the English language.
One infected e-mail message had a subject line that spelled "anthrax" as "antrax." But virus writers like this one are likely just piggybacking on the terrorist attacks. The warped get attention and a feeling of power by stirring hysteria this way.
It also has been shown …