TU gets cyber terrorism grant

Saturday, March 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

We all rely on telephones for our everyday lives, but police and fire departments are even more dependent. What would happen if a terrorist shut down important phone lines in an emergency?

A group of local college students is trying to prevent this dangerous scenario. At the ripe, young age of eighteen years old, Tony Meehan has an enormous responsibility. He and his nine colleagues, average age about 21, are charged with the task of protecting the entire nations phone network from terrorists. A far cry more intense than the average go-to-class, take-a-nap schedule of many college freshmen.

Tony Meehan says, "It's alot of work, but we get to play with cool toys and design and be creative. It's alot of fun, even though it is hard." Among the ten TU students working on the Public Telephone Network Security Group, six are undergraduates and four are graduate students. Five of the ten are only eighteen. Young, yes, but still some of the brightest minds in computer security.

This project, which recently received almost a million-dollar grant from the government, will identify terrorist acts against phone lines and react. All previous projects in the field of phone security have focused on fraud. Project leader, Gary Lorenz says, "The next threat that we would worry about would be a serious terrorist threat that could say shut down all the telephones in say, Tulsa, say." The part of the system Meehan's working on is what's called a sniffer. It's security hardware placed between a potential hacker and the phone network.

Right now the group is simulating terrorist attacks on the network so the sniffer can see each attack styles signature elements. Lorenz adds, "It's going to see these signatures and say 'hey you know what, we saw this before. This is what it looks like. Let's respond to it." That hardware is just one of many aspects of the entire security system. A system that could be in place within three years.