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[ISN] Online Data a Gold Mine for Terrorists
By Dan Verton and Lucas Mearian
AUGUST 09, 2004
The widespread availability of sensitive information on corporate Web
sites appears to have been largely overlooked by IT and security
managers who responded last week to the Department of Homeland
Security's warning of a heightened terrorist threat against the
financial services sector.
Freely available on the Web, for example, are 3-D models of the
exterior and limited portions of the interior of the Citigroup Inc.
headquarters building in Manhattan -- one of the sites specifically
named in the latest terror advisory issued by the DHS. Likewise,
details of the Citigroup building's history of structural design
weaknesses, including its susceptibility to toppling over in high
winds, the construction of its central support column and the fire
rating of the materials used in the building, are readily available on
A Citigroup spokeswoman declined to comment, referring the matter to
the building owner, Boston Properties Inc.
Similarly, the Web site of the Chicago Board of Trade includes
photographs of the facility's underground parking garages, floor plans
of office suites, and contact names and phone numbers for the
telecommunications service providers that serve the building.
Maria Gemskie, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Board of Trade, said the
exchange could not comment publicly about specific security
precautions being put in place. But she stressed that "all aspects of
security are taken very seriously and we are looking into [our Web
content] as well."
But information like that posted on the exchange's Web site can be a
gold mine for terrorists, security experts said. A senior intelligence
official at the DHS, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
recent capture of al-Qaeda computer expert Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan in
Pakistan yielded a computer filled with photographs and floor diagrams
of buildings in the U.S. that terrorists may have been planning to
"Not thinking through the security implications of some of the
information put online can be a very dangerous mistake," said Amit
Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at the DHS.
"The Pentagon has looked very closely at this issue, and certainly
corporate America should do the same." In fact, Yoran said the
situation is serious enough that the DHS may need to look into
publishing best-practices guidelines for companies to follow.
Eric Friedberg, managing director of New York-based security firm
Stroz Friedberg LLC, said the warnings about sensitive Web site
postings that his company took to the private sector two years ago
have "fallen on deaf ears".
MacDonnell Ulsch, managing director of Janus Risk Management Inc. in
Marlboro, Mass., said making this type of information available is
"It may make it easier for contractors and service providers to do
their jobs, but the risk may exceed the benefit," said Ulsch. "A
well-trained engineer can easily discern the greatest points of
vulnerability in a building by analyzing the design. Making this
information available is a fundamental mistake with deadly
According to Ulsch, what companies do or fail to do in response to a
threat is a direct result of their understanding of the risk.
Consequently, when companies are told to beware of terrorists driving
truck bombs into or near their buildings, they deploy concrete
barriers, he said.
And that seems to be exactly what has happened in the aftermath of the
latest threat-level increase, with most firms focusing on redundancy
and recovery while paying very little attention to countersurveillance
and information control.
Sylvain Pendaries, CIO at CDC Ixis North America Inc. in Manhattan,
said previous terror alerts have loosened the purse strings of
executives in his company, enabling him to complete disaster recovery
plans. CDC Ixis in February completed an upgrade to its communications
network, moving from two T3 lines to a Sonet ring that connects sites
in New York and New Jersey at OC48 port speeds.
While an increased focus on disaster recovery is necessary, Yoran said
the lack of focus on blocking cybersurveillance activities stems from
a disconnect between the terrorist alert system and the role of
cybersecurity in homeland defense. "In practical terms, tuning a
firewall, changing parameters on antivirus software and advocating
more frequent password changes don't really line up with the different
threat levels," he said.
Michelle Petrovich, a spokeswoman for Robert Liscouski, assistant
secretary for infrastructure protection at the DHS, said that while
companies have the right to post whatever information they want, the
DHS encourages all companies to add Web site reviews to their list of
preventive security measures.
Open Source Vulnerability Database (OSVDB) Everything is Vulnerable - http://www.osvdb.org/