The United States has launched a massive FBI investigation of the hackers who shut down major Websites in the United States, Europe and Japan. At the same time, France and the European Union have leveled strong attacks against our government for allegedly spying on them using a National Security Agency program called ECHELON (see "Enemies of the State," Sept. 13, 1999). The message is clear: If the United States really hopes to stop Web hacking, it had better stop attacking the computers, e-mails and faxes of its allies. Because the timing of these two events is so close, and the message so patently clear, the president has a rare opportunity to put things right with our allies and do something about the terrible problem of computer hacking.
Hacking the Internet no longer is the trivial pursuit of disgruntled teenagers. Today's hackers have the ability significantly to affect e-commerce, a growing industry, and disrupt commercial and government communications. Even defense systems today increasingly are reliant on the Internet. Attacks by hackers carry significant national-security implications.
Hackers, too, are not the same crowd they were a few years ago. Many of the attacks in the last few years against government, academic and commercial Websites have been carried out by professionals. Some of the attacks originated in China, some in the Middle East, some in Europe. In fact, even the Russian Academy of Sciences was involved in attacks on sensitive computer systems in the United States. Knowledge about the Russian operation against U.S. government sites leaked out last spring in the wake of secret hearings held on Capitol Hill. Code-named "Moonlight Maze" by the FBI, the Russian-directed attacks were regarded as very sophisticated and serious. Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre secretly told lawmakers, "We are at war -- right now. We are in a cyber-war." It is clear that today's hackers have transmogrified and might better be called "hacker-spies."
Sometimes hacker attacks have interrupted military operations. This was the case in Kosovo when the Yugoslavs attempted to close down U.S. and allied military Internet sites. A similar intrusion into operational military sites occurred when an Israeli hacker named Ehud Tenebaum, alias "The Analyzer" launched a clever attack against U.S. Army logistics computer systems. The cyberattack corresponded with imminent U.S. military operations against Iraq in 1998. The Pentagon suspected, before Tenebaum and his accomplices were identified, that Iraq had penetrated U. …