Tuesday December 14, 1999
U.S. to Computer Hackers: Give U.S. a Y2K Break
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton's top aide on Y2K matters has urged computer hackers to exercise self-restraint until after year 2000 technology fears largely have passed.
In an unusual plea for mercy, John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said that some people regard piercing computer network security to be a ``great public service'' because it calls attention to security cracks.
``Hopefully those people will recognize we're going to have enough things going on that (New Year's) weekend that this will not be a particularly good weekend to demonstrate the need for more information security,'' he said on Monday.
``If you want to, in fact, make those points, my hope is (you'll) make them the following weekend,'' when Y2K confusion is expected to have subsided, Koskinen said in reply to a reporter's question.
One major concern of authorities is that confusion during the century date change could mask a wide range of malicious anti-U.S. activity, including possible computer-based attacks by hostile nations or guerrillas.
Michael Vatis, the FBI agent who serves as the nation's top ''cyber-cop,'' said last week that the interagency outfit he heads -- the National Infrastructure Protection Center -- would be on alert although it had no hard evidence of any planned attacks.
``It's natural to expect there might be people doing stupid things with computers,'' he said of possible cyber attacks timed to exploit any high-tech confusion sparked by the century date change.
``Increased Vigilance'' Urged
Bruce McConnell, a former White House information technology expert who now runs the U.N.-sponsored International Y2K Cooperation Center, said viruses timed to trigger on Jan. 1 appeared to be spreading, notably hidden in e-mail attachments.
``Clearly the end of the year is a time for increased vigilance with respect to computer security,'' McConnell said in a telephone interview.
Adding to the confusion may be so-called denial-of-service attacks aimed at swamping government or private sector Web sites, according to Clark Staten, executive director of the Chicago-based Emergency Response and Research Institute.
Last week, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced it would interrupt its Internet services for ``several hours'' during the New Year's weekend as a guard against hackers, power surges and other possible Y2K headaches. The agency said it would bar access during that limited period to the many data banks normally available on its Web site.
The Defense Department and the U.S. Agriculture Department said last week they also were considering such precautions.
Growing Number Of Computer Viruses Seen
Anti-virus software makers have reported a growing number of computer viruses timed to go off on or about Jan. 1, when systems engineered to recognize only the last two digits in a date field may confuse 2000 with 1900.
``We are starting to see an increased frequency of viruses related to the year 2000. Some of them are timed to trigger on January first,'' said Narendar Mangalam, director of security strategy for Computer Associates, an Islandia, New York-based business computing firm.
The CERT Coordination Center, a Defense Department-funded computer security project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said it did not consider Y2K viruses a greater threat than the many others it has tracked.
``There may be viruses that are particularly virulent that I'm not familiar with that are set to go off on January first,'' Shawn Hernan, CERT's team leader for vulnerability handling, said in a telephone interview.
``In general, though, if you are susceptible to viruses that are spreading to be triggered on January first, you're going to be susceptible to those that are triggered to go off on January second and January third, and so on and so forth,'' he said.
The best defense, Hernan said, was keeping up to date with anti-virus software updates, avoiding running programs of unknown origin, maintaining backups, paying attention to anomalies and reporting them to network security administrators.