Info-Tech Industry Targets Diverse Threats: Fears of Network Vulnerability Fuel Market for Improved Security Systems

By Book, Elizabeth G. | National Defense, August 2002 | Go to article overview
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Info-Tech Industry Targets Diverse Threats: Fears of Network Vulnerability Fuel Market for Improved Security Systems


Book, Elizabeth G., National Defense


Emerging technologies in the communications and electronics sector should be exploited to fight the war on terrorism, said U.S. officials.

"We need to use all instruments of national power," said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At a conference of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, Myers explained that as the United States' means of acquiring information increases, so does its intelligence.

"We hear from some law enforcement official in London, who has seen something, or someone makes an arrest in Morocco. Pretty soon you start to piece this together and connect the dots, and you can take action against financial networks, against the leadership, or rake actions to disrupt the weapons flow," he said. Myers explained that it is currently an arduous process to "put it all together," but with new capabilities and technologies, "we can make the cycle go much faster," he said.

"If you think it's true that this is the most important thing those of us in uniform have ever done ... then we also have got to expect to make some sacrifices," and work harder to thwart another attack, he said.

Shoring up technology in the areas of fiber optics, computer programs, biometrics and network-centric warfare improvements, companies are working to market new products to the Defense Department and U.S. allies.

News reports about al Qaeda's attempts to launch cyber-attacks are likely to spur business opportunities for the network-security industry. Opterna, a Quakertown, Pa.-based company that manufactures fiber optic network equipment, has developed a new technology that can prevent an intrusion based on the hacker's attempt to log onto the network from the fiber optic line, before the intruder even reaches the network. Opterna's Fiber Sentinel system uses artificial intelligence and optical digital signature recognition to monitor fiber connections, and can detect and deal with intrusions, said Michael Cohen, vice president of Global Marketing for Opterna.

"We have seen a tremendous upsurge in interest among government and military customers for a system that can eliminate their fiber optic network vulnerabilities," said Bret Matz, Opterna's president.

After detecting the intrusion, Fiber Sentinel denies access to the intruder, simultaneously re-routes legitimate traffic to a backup fiber path and then notifies the network operator of the intrusion. The system, which has no known competitor, provides continuous, real-time monitoring of the network connections without any disruption of the data stream, said Cohen. Fiber Sentinel identifies such intrusions as Trojan Horses, worms, denial-of-service attacks and other hacking attempts, he said. "The system shuts down the hacker's path in milliseconds."

The company recently completed a proof-of-concept study for the Fiber Sentinel system, and has had favorable reviews from the military users, Cohen said. "Our target markets are embassies, financial services communities, air traffic controllers, the Defense Department, Border Patrol and the White House Communication Agency." Other potential customers are companies concerned about industrial espionage, he said.

Denial-of-Service Attacks

Denial-of-service attacks on computer networks can result in a complete network shutdown, which can cost companies a lot of money and time. "In the national defense business, you've got people in the battlefield," said Ted Julian, chief strategist and co-founder of Arbor Networks, a two-year-old small business based in Lexington, Mass.

"A few minutes of them having no information is completely unacceptable. It's literally a life or death scenario," he said.

Arbor Networks is commercializing a program whose underlying technology was developed at the University of Michigan, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The company's flagship product, Peakflow, helps detect, trace and filter denial of service attacks.

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