Aggies fight terror on the home front

By Casey Snider
The Utah Statesman
September 10, 2007

"If you are an enemy and you want to attack, without nuclear weapons, you get a team of hackers together and attack the system," said James Marshall, program manager at USU's Space Dynamics Lab.

Marshall and other researchers at the lab have been working on an effective way to fight cyber-terrorism, the attacking and/or targeting of computers or online infrastructure within in the medium of cyber space.

"Cyberterrorists attack via the net without expensive weapons," said Robert Erbacher, assistant professor in the College of Science. "They can take down crucial systems without risks."

Together with a team of students, Erbacher is working to develop a system that will allow network managers to see the status of their current systems, alerting them to and informing them of any incoming security problems. The system will be able to provide a notice at the first sign of possible attack.

The Space Dynamics Lab researchers have spent the last 2 1/2 years developing technology that could be used to expose weaknesses in USU's current infrastructure that are especially vulnerable to terrorists. The program is called Exercise Scenario Modeling Tool, and it would be used to create simulations of possible cyber-terrorist attacks on anything from financial institutions to the basic emergency services, like 911.

Yet the science is still in its infancy, and the field is only recently emerging. Currently, most of the research is government-funded, including the money which USU has spent on its technologies.

"Private industry will not do this unless the government funds it," Marshall said. "Wal-Mart isn't going to find out how to fight foreign terrorists."

USU will continue its work with the money it has and plans to keep it going in the future with money it is slated to receive from Congress.

"There are a lot of questions ahead that need answering," Marshall said, "and we are vulnerable till we do answer these questions."


2006 The Utah Statesman