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India, Syria, Iran adept at e-raids

WASHINGTON November 3, 1999 (Scripps Howard News Service) So far, as many as 23 countries are believed to have the capacity to engage in state-sponsored, surreptitious electronic raids. Among the most sophisticated: India, Syria and Iran, experts say. Some nations already have taken the leap:

Indonesia: Its government in January was identified as being behind a coordinated assault on Ireland's Internet service provider, which hosted a Web site advocating independence for the province of East Timor.

Russia: Hackers working for the Russian government targeted Pentagon computer networks between January and May, apparently in search of naval codes and missile guidance data. Pentagon officials say the attacks failed to penetrate classified systems.

China: It launched an assault an array of U.S. government Web sites, including those of the departments of Energy and Interior and the White House's public site, which was knocked out of commission three times. These occurred after a U.S. bomb accidentally struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May during the conflict with Yugoslavia. The assault was triggered by outraged Chinese government operatives, apparently letting their emotions get the better of them. They lobbed a fusillade of electrons but, by doing so, also revealed an astonishing 3,000 to 4,000 "back doors" into U.S. computer systems that had been created by China, according to Jay Valentine, head of Infoglide Corp., an Austin, Texas, company that investigates computer security breaches for the U.S. government.

Valentine estimates that number of secret passages amounts to only about 5 percent of those China has managed to establish in both government and private industry systems.

Even more sobering is the public discussion now going on within China's top military leadership circles about the desirability of developing a "dirty war" strategy, in which computer viruses would be used against the West.

Revelations such as these are adding urgency to the Pentagon's efforts to fortify its systems against incursions and cobble together a war-fighting doctrine to guide its own conduct of cyber combat.

Defense leaders have designated the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., as the headquarters for both offensive and defensive cyber war, although it won't come online until next October.