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Protecting America With Cyber Armor

Wednesday, 19 September 2001 12:00 AM

With evil intent, the terrorist pilot started to make a turn toward his intended target inside a nearby heavily populated city. However, instead of diving into a final suicide mission, he suddenly finds that the controls simply do not work. The airliner gently levels off at a safe altitude and within minutes is joined by two sleek fighter jets.

In frustration, unable to take control of the huge craft, the terrorists finally smash the airliner controls and panels, in a final effort to crash the airplane. Yet, instead of falling from the sky, the airliner rapidly lands at a remote U.S. military base and stops within inches of armed troops. The terrorists, disoriented by the rapid deceleration and stop of the airliner, are then quickly routed by Special Forces units and taken into custody.

Can't happen? Remotely piloted vehicles are flying over the globe. Many of these unmanned robots fly without human control, performing dangerous surveillance missions over hostile skies. The systems already exist for aircraft to be monitored and tied directly into a centralized network.

The FAA and NASA already developed the technology to securely communicate and take control of aircraft in flight as part of a planned commercial 21st-century air control network. In fact, the planned system was designed specifically to allow remote control of aircraft for the safest and most efficient flying in the ever more crowded skies of America. In short, if you want to land a thousand planes an hour at O'Hare airport, you must have computer control.

I once told a pilot, after a particularly gentle touchdown of his commercial jet during a violent storm, that we both needed to thank the programmer for that nice landing. Most modern airliners are highly computerized but in these years of change many of the pilots and crew are not. The requirements to train pilots and crew are simply one part of an overdue program to plug computerized airliners into the proposed air network.

Before Sept. 11, the NASA/FAA developed proposal received little attention and even less funding. The key to such a system is that it must be secure. Such a new air traffic system will require physical and digital security and a ton of money. It can also be integrated into an overall air/space defense system designed to protect America against missile and airborne attacks.

The computer security systems necessary to operate in the 21st century will require encryption-ciphering technology to protect and defend. The use of computer ciphers to protect factories, airplanes and communications are a fundamental part of our national defense.

However, the recent misguided effort inside Congress to impose extreme restrictions on cipher technology is the cyberspace equal of trying to burn books. The proposed legislation is no more than striking out at shadows. In fact, as illustrated above, the same technology may protect us from terrorist attack.

Osama bin Laden is reportedly armed with encryption keyed from open source publication. Any criminal or terrorist can purchase one of a hundred books from retail stores across America and key the software code in. A slightly richer criminal could even use an Optical Scanner (OCR) and convert the pages directly into readable source code in less time.

Yet, the same book also enabled millions of American programmers to provide security for the myriad of private, public and military computers systems around the nation. This fact is not lost on the U.S. government. A secret Commerce briefing document from a 1996 meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno openly admits the futile nature of trying to restrict computer-ciphering software.

"Lost in the debate," states the secret 1996 Commerce Department document. "But not irrelevant, is the fact that it is virtually impossible to enforce export control's against them when they can be exported by phone and modem or/in someone's pocket."

Moreover, a November 1993 Top Secret document prepared for then-President Bill Clinton openly admitted the futility of any government-imposed ban on encryption technology. According to the heavily classified document, a ban would "either (1) discourage criminals from using encryption because they realized that most products did not provide protection from wiretaps, or (2) encourage criminals to acquire strong encryption technology, whether commercial or home made."

Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington all used ciphers to protect their private and public correspondence. However, there are some who feel certain they can eliminate some 20 centuries of history and math from schoolbooks. The proposed legislation against the science of ciphers and codes was generated by a fear of technology by those who do not understand it.

According to Rep. Bob Barr, R. Ga., "Before we begin dismantling constitutionally protected safeguards and diminishing fundamental rights to privacy, we should first examine why last week's attacks occurred."

Barr, a former federal prosecutor, and CIA analyst serves on the House Financial Services, Judiciary, and Government Reform Committees.

"Our immediate reaction to such unspeakable criminal activity must not be to expand law enforcement's investigative authority, but to examine how and why execution of current law was not successful. Let us not rush into a vast expansion of government power in a misguided attempt to protect freedom. In doing so, we will inevitably erode the very freedoms we seek to protect."

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With evil intent, the terrorist pilot started to make a turn toward his intended target inside a nearby heavily populated city.However, instead of diving into a final suicide mission, he suddenly finds that the controls simply do not work.The airliner gently levels off...
Wednesday, 19 September 2001 12:00 AM
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