Corporate websites overlooked as potential terrorist targets

The widespread availability of sensitive information on corporate Web sites appears to have been largely overlooked by information technology and security managers who responded to the US Department of Homeland Security's latest warning of a heightened terrorist threat against the financial services sector.

Terrorists' use of the Internet for communication, training, and propaganda has been acknowledged. And Richard Clarke, while head of the White House cyberdefense office, had warned about terrorists gathering useful information online.

Building Specs Found

Freely available on the Web, for example, are 3-D models of the exterior and limited portions of the interior of the Citigroup headquarters building in Manhattan--one of the sites specifically named in the latest terror advisory issued by the DHS. Likewise, details of the Citigroup building's history of structural design weaknesses, including its susceptibility to toppling over in high winds, the construction of its central support column and the fire rating of the materials used in the building, are readily available on the Web.

A Citigroup spokesperson declines to comment, referring the matter to the building owner, Boston Properties.

Similarly, the Web site of the Chicago Board of Trade includes photographs of the facility's underground parking garages, floor plans of office suites, and contact names and phone numbers for the telecommunications service providers that serve the building.

Maria Gemskie, a spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Trade, says the exchange cannot comment publicly about specific security precautions being put in place. But she stresses that "all aspects of security are taken very seriously and we are looking into (our Web content) as well."

But information like that posted on the exchange's Web site can be a gold mine for terrorists, security experts say. A senior intelligence official at the DHS, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the recent capture of al-Qaeda computer expert Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan in Pakistan yielded a computer filled with photographs and floor diagrams of buildings in the U.S. that terrorists may have been planning to attack.

"Not thinking through the security implications of some of the information put online can be a very dangerous mistake," says Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at the DHS. "The Pentagon has looked very closely at this issue, and certainly corporate America should do the same." In fact, Yoran said the situation is serious enough that the DHS may need to look into publishing best-practices guidelines for companies to follow.

Unheeded Warnings

Eric Friedberg, managing director of New York-based security firm Stroz Friedberg, says the warnings about sensitive Web site postings that his company took to the private sector two years ago have "fallen on deaf ears."

MacDonnell Ulsch, managing director of Janus Risk Management in Marlboro, Massachusetts, says making this type of information available is inexcusable.

"It may make it easier for contractors and service providers to do their jobs, but the risk may exceed the benefit," Ulsch says. "A well-trained engineer can easily discern the greatest points of vulnerability in a building by analyzing the design. Making this information available is a fundamental mistake with deadly consequences."

According to Ulsch, what companies do or fail to do in response to a threat is a direct result of their understanding of the risk. Consequently, when companies are told to beware of terrorists driving truck bombs into or near their buildings, they deploy concrete barriers, he says.

And that seems to be exactly what has happened in the aftermath of the latest threat-level increase, with most firms focusing on redundancy and recovery while paying very little attention to countersurveillance and information control.

Sylvain Pendaries, CIO at CDC Ixis North America in Manhattan, says previous terror alerts have loosened the purse strings of executives in his company, enabling him to complete disaster recovery plans. CDC Ixis in February completed an upgrade to its communications network, moving from two T3 lines to a Sonet ring that connects sites in New York and New Jersey at OC48 port speeds.

While an increased focus on disaster recovery is necessary, Yoran says the lack of focus on blocking cybersurveillance activities stems from a disconnect between the terrorist alert system and the role of cybersecurity in homeland defense. "In practical terms, tuning a firewall, changing parameters on antivirus software and advocating more frequent password changes don't really line up with the different threat levels," he says.

Michelle Petrovich, a spokesperson for Robert Liscouski, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the DHS, says that while companies have the right to post whatever information they want, the DHS encourages all companies to add Web site reviews to their list of preventive security measures.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?