George Mason University and James Madison University will collaborate
a wide-ranging project to address the threat of cyber-terrorism, through
$6.5 million federal grant that is among the largest ever received by either
The effort will combine resources from GMU's School of Law and JMU's
technology and information security programs to sponsor research and train
business and government leaders in how to protect the nation's computer
networks against attack.
National intelligence experts have lately raised concerns that terrorist
hackers may be targeting the networks controlling the military, banking,
emergency services or business.
"If the computers controlling these systems would fail, the systems would
fail," said Mark Grady, dean of GMU's law school.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology grant was steered
the Virginia colleges by a congressional subcommittee chaired by U.S. Rep.
Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). But college officials say they owe the award as much
to merit as home-state politics: Both schools had earlier been recognized
the National Security Agency as top research centers for cyber security.
The two universities have collaborated before and were urged to join
forces on the new Critical Infrastructure Protection Project to compete
better-known centers for information security, such as Dartmouth and
Carnegie-Mellon. Other institutions are also receiving federal dollars to
study network security, but only the Virginia project will involve law and
"Leveraging these two programs will give us a strength in this area that
doesn't exist elsewhere in this country," said Linwood Rose, president of
College officials said the federal grant is one of the largest awarded
JMU, and the largest ever to GMU's law school.
The push to protect computer systems had its roots in a presidential
commission formed after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 to study how to
defend the national infrastructure against terrorism. It gained momentum
after the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Wolf -- who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce,
Justice, State and the Judiciary -- pointed to recent news reports that
computer hackers linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization or even
the Chinese military may be looking for weaknesses in U.S. computer
Wolf singled out China as a particular threat, criticizing its track
record on human rights and aggression toward Taiwan.
John McCarthy, the newly hired executive director of the joint project,
said that any attempts to enhance network security must combine research
technology, public policy and law.
For technology researchers, he said, the question is how to bolster
networks and coordinate emergency services that often use different
communication systems. Public policy analysts will have to figure out how
deal with multiple and widespread attacks, while legal experts must deal
with how to prosecute hackers who attack across several jurisdictions while
also preserving the privacy rights of U.S. industry.