U.S. representative’s cyber-attack warning doesn’t daunt Port Angeles on Wi-Fi

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks’ warning that the U.S. is vulnerable to a cyber attack left those involved in building Port Angeles’ first-of-its-kind citywide Wi-Fi system no more worried Thursday than before Dicks made his comments Wednesday at a Bremerton technology conference.

The Metro-Net wireless project, launched Monday, is free during October, then will be free one hour a day and 12 days a year beginning in November, when it will begin costing up to $34.95 a month for mobile Internet users and $37.95 a month for fixed-point users through Sequim-based OlyPen.

The increase of mobile access to Internet users within the city limit is combined with broad improvements to public safety communications as part of a system that will continue its expansion this Monday to an area south of Lauridsen Boulevard along DelGuzzi Drive, Police Chief Terry Gallagher said.

But the improved and broader access to information and communication by public safety officers and other emergency responders is protected from hacking and cyber attacks by encryption, which changes information into code.

“The public safety side of that is well-protected,” Gallagher said.

“Security has been a consideration throughout this process.”

The $3.7 million mobile Internet service project will make Port Angeles the only completely wireless city in Washington and one of the few, if not the only, citywide Wi-Fi systems anywhere in the U.S. to share infrastructure with a public first-responder network, city officials have said.

It’s being built by Capacity Provisioning Inc., with Internet service provided by OlyPen.

No concern

“As far as the public safety band, there is nothing to be concerned about,” OlyPen general manager Charles “Doc” Beaudette said.

“Wi-Fi is not a secure medium,” he added.

“There are the same vulnerabilities you would have on your home Wi-Fi network.”

A cyber attack against Metro-Net is “very unlikely,” said Craig Johnson, managing partner and vice president of Capacity Provisioning.

“We will be affected indirectly if and when someone does a massive cyber attack against the Internet that slows it down or shuts it down,” Johnson said.

“Any users of free [Wi-Fi] service need to be cautious,” he added.

Unsecured sites

He recommended that Internet users not pay bills or conduct other financial transactions on unsecured sites that don’t require a private password while in, for example, Internet cafes while using free Wi-Fi.

“The bad guys can capture text,” Johnson said.

Any system can be hacked, city Power Resources Manager Phil Lusk said.

“But you have to assess the risks and returns of hacking that system,” he said.

“What marginal benefit would be gained by hacking into Wi-Fi?

“What information would they gain that they can’t get from another source?”

Dicks, whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, delivered his warning message to a summit of about 150 innovation and technology leaders Wednesday evening.

He said privacy concerns over taking action against the threat of cyber attacks were overshadowing the depth of the threat.

“Congress has been wrestling with the issue for the last several years,” Dicks said, according to the Kitsap Sun.

“How would these concerns be viewed after a major cyber battle occurred?”

At this point, it might take a “cyber 9-1-1” or an “electronic Pearl Harbor” to get action, said Dicks, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a ranking member of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations.

‘Before it is too late’

“All of us remain at risk. It is my hope that we act before it is too late.”

The Department of Defense should lead the security effort, Dicks said.

The evening at the Kitsap Conference Center was hosted by the West Sound Technology Association.

Dicks is retiring at the end of this year after serving 18 terms in Congress.

He was not available for comment Thursday.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 11. 2012 5:27PM
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