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Technology, terror links stressed

From Daily Progress
September 12, 2002

By David Dadurka

Since the attacks on Sept. 11 last year, Anita Jones and her husband have kept their car's fuel tank at least half-filled when staying in Washington, just in case of another terrorist attack.

Jones, speaking at a breakfast Thursday morning to about 50 area businesspeople, said she fears that there will be covert attacks on the country's technology infrastructure.

"Technology is an integral force for moving forward after Sept. 11," said Jones, a University of Virginia professor of computer science and former director of defense research and engineering for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Jones told members of the Virginia Piedmont Technology Council how technology might aid in counterterrorism efforts and described the challenges facing technology after the attacks.

Businesses are coping with several challenges posed by 9-11, including how to ensure business continuity and how to protect employees in the event of future attacks, she said.

"My No. 1 concern is bio-agent attacks," Jones said. "It is scariest because there is no therapeutic response, and it takes 15 years to develop a drug."

She said the efforts to research vaccines for bio-agents could fall to universities because the pharmaceutical industry rarely engages in high-risk research.

Jones also pointed out that the Department of Agriculture is deeply concerned about the possibility of contaminated meats and crops, but said she couldn't speak to what the agencies are doing to protect against these kinds of potential attacks.

Her other concerns focused on the security of the Internet. "Could you cause a cataclysmic attack by only going through cyberspace?" Jones asked rhetorically.

A sustained covert attack on business data could undermine trust in online systems, she said.

Jones said the weakness of electronic data rests in its reliance on perimeter defenses like firewalls.

"Perimeter defenses don't work," she said. "As a research community, we should move to a new system."

Jones suggested basing new security systems on an immune-system concept, using antibody-type programs to attack viruses.

These programs would take action against viruses when appropriate, she said.

"When I grade students' programs, each program has a ???different signature, but the programs perform the same function," said Jones, who teaches a course on computer security at UVa. "We could build detectors that would see the differences."

Computer viruses, like programs, have unique signature patterns that can be discovered even when their codes are encrypted, she said.

Despite the challenges facing technology post-Sept. 11, Jones said the security concerns have opened a significant business opportunity for companies.

Several Virginia-based companies already have created technologies to aid in counter-terrorism efforts.

Avir LLC, based in Charlottesville, is developing a new generation of remote sensors of chemical agents like nerve gas.

Lawrence J. Delaney, chief executive officer of Arete Associates in Arlington who attended the talk, said his company has been working with the Department of Agriculture to protect against mad cow disease.

"The Department of Defense ought to be investing more in solving these problems," Jones said. "They are increasingly dependent on information systems."


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