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Banks Fear High-Tech Terrorism

  • High-tech terrorism may be the electronic wave of the future.

Experts in Britain believe there now exists the capability to launch electronic attacks that would disable the computer systems of both the British government and "The City," the headquarters of London's financiers.

The technique would allow terrorists to wreak havoc on Britain without the stigma attached to more violent methods such as bombings.

British police and security services are increasingly concerned about the dangers of "information warfare."

Technology now available allows the jamming of computers from a distance. High-energy radio frequency (herf) guns fire a pulse of electromagnetic energy similar to that given off by a nuclear explosion.

Large herf guns have been shown to have the capability of stopping a modern car from 100 yards away by scrambling the car's electronics. Smaller, hand-held herf guns are available for about $1,500.

There is nothing to stop someone, even the man on the street, from generating radio frequencies and firing them at computers, said one expert. The technology is available off the shelf.


In 1996 English banking institutions were rumored to have paid $600 million to extortionists who threatened to use herf guns to destroy their computers, although these claims were denied by some security experts.

Winn Schwarau, president of Interpact, Inc., a security consulting firm said two banking officials at the recent International Banking Information Technology Forum in Basel, Switzerland told him that four banks have together paid the equivalent of $100 million to cyber-bandits who brought down computer systems.

Another security expert, who asked for anonymity, claimed a bank in Cornwall, England had its teller terminals and CRT screen blanked out or garbled for three days by bandits who pointed herf devised at them.
The security expert also said he was now at a Las Vegas casino, where he is investigating what appears to be a herf attack by cyber-bandits there.

One thing to bear in mind: while the hand-held herf gun with a range of 20 miles might not yet exist, someone attacking a static target over a much shorter distance may be able to assemble a bulky -- if primitive -- device and use energy from power mains to drive it.

Said Mat Warren, head of a business security research group at Plymouth Business School: "If there's an institution in the city of London that processes millions of transactions a day, to lose their communications system would have major consequences.

"The tools for these sorts of attacks are so freely available you don't have to be an expert to use them. You are seeing an exponential growth in the technology in terms of hacking software and e-mail attack systems."