By Melissa Ludwig
The University of Texas at San Antonio is receiving $3 million from the
Department of Homeland Security to teach local communities how to handle
a cyber attack on critical computer systems like the ones that control
power grids and 911 call centers.
The three-year, $3 million competitive training grant is part of a
homeland security initiative to train state and local governments to
prevent and respond to catastrophic disasters, including terrorism.
"We are excited that the Homeland Security Department recognized UTSA as
having something unique here to offer," said Greg White, director of the
Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security, UTSA's 5-year-old
entree into cyber-security research.
The CIAS has already developed the training program and has conducted
exercises in Texas, Ohio and Virginia, White said. With additional
money, they can expand the program's scope.
San Antonio will also be home to a study of freedom of information laws
around the country designed to see how well states are doing when it
comes to safeguarding information about infrastructure and cyber
security. That study, to be conducted by the St. Mary's University
Center for Terrorism Law, is being administered by the Air Force and
paid for with a $1 million Defense Department grant.
The UTSA grant's origins lie in San Antonio, where the CIAS staged its
first dark screen exercise in 2002, White said. For that exercise, they
rounded up 200 folks from all sectors of the community, including city
and county workers, people from the water and power utilities and from
military and local industries.
White gathered them in a room in the basement of the Alamodome and posed
them with a fictional problem: What would you do if you were under cyber
attack by a group that was angry about the freezing of terrorist assets?
What if the attackers hacked into the 911 system and re-routed calls?
What if emergency operations went dark?
"Few communities are looking at the possibility of a cyber event, which
could have a catastrophic impact on a city," White said. In the past, he
said, Homeland Security has been criticized for not doing enough to
prevent cyber attack, instead focusing on response to physical attacks
from bombs, biological warfare or nuclear weapons.
"We should be worrying about this too," White said.
The highest rates of hacking are against critical infrastructure
systems, and America is the biggest target for such attacks, he said.
Last year, the Air Force expanded its mission to include not just air
and space, but cyber space as well.
"You have different levels of threats: cyber terrorism, cyber crime,
cyber vandalism," White said. "If I am sharing information (with other
sectors of the community), we can identify what kind of attack it is and
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