College cracks down on terrorism

by Sara Connolly | 5/8/00 5:00am

Dartmouth has become home to a high-tech antiterrorism initiative, and the timing couldn't be better.

One of only two in the country, the Institute for Security Technology Studies opened in Hanover this past December, with its main mission being to combat cyber-terrorism.

This week's official announcement of the Institute's opening comes as the world still is reeling from the Love Virus, the most disabling attack ever by a computer hacker. But the Institute grew out of a decidedly different sort of terrorist incident: the deadliest terrorism attack in U.S. history which took place April 19, 1995 -- the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Last year, Congress approved millions of dollars for counter-terrorism research and prevention at two principle locations -- Oklahoma City and Dartmouth College. Funding for the Dartmouth Institute this year is $15 million.

The Institute is run in conjunction with the Thayer School of Engineering and the Dartmouth College Department of Computer Science.

Various members of the Dartmouth faculty, more than a dozen students, and several specialists make up the Institute research crew.

"The Institute is an extremely exciting 'work in progress,'" says Thayer School of Engineering Dean Lewis Duncan.

"We believe that [the Institute] addresses an urgent national need, promotes and challenges Dartmouth to national leadership in this emergent field of study and research and represents a tremendous opportunity for all of our students and faculty to participate in the breadth of these national issues and programs," Duncan said.

Nearly three-quarters of the Institute's research will focus on cyber-terrorism. "One of the key strengths of Dartmouth is in its computational depth. I think there's quite a history of strength in computing and computer networking," Dr. Richard Scribner, acting director of the Institute, said. "That's the cornerstone on which we will build our program."

Other research will include some threat assessments, training and preparedness studies and distance learning tools that will deliver specialized information to remote locations.

The Institute also hopes to help the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to better respond to disease outbreaks. "For medical related issues there are questions of training for physicians to be able to better identify perhaps some exotic illnesses that they might come in contact with, that could be associated with potential terrorist use of biological agents," Scribner said.

Despite the high profile of the Institute, Scribner doubts that the College will become a target for hackers or other cyber-terrorists.

"Most systems are pretty well protected. There will be, as needed, varying levels of protection, including firewalls that will be put up," he said. "As we've seen, hackers like to boast about what they've been able to do."

The Institute also will also provide educational benefits with a curriculum to be taught at the College utilizing the Institute's research, particularly in the computer science field.