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Discovery Channel Films Cyber Attack Segment

By Jody Record, Media Relations
January 17, 2007

Mark Leonard, Distance Learning Offiice
Mark Leonard, CIS- Academic Technology

Andrew Macpherson When the Discovery Channel decided to do a project on what life might be like in 2057, they called on assistant research professor Andrew Macpherson to fill them in on the threat posed by cyber attacks.

The three hour docudrama, set to air Jan. 28, explores “real world, hard information” about what life will be like 50 years from now. One of the aspects “Future 2057” explores is changes in technology. Macpherson, of Justiceworks, was sought out because of his expertise with cyber security.

In the segment, a 12-year-old boy who picked up his hacking skills from his grandfather has accidentally let loose a computer virus that brings the city to a stand-still.

To make filming as realistic as possible, Discovery videotaped Macpherson in UNH’s Distance Learning office where technical specialist Mark Leonard helped to set the scene.

“We used every projector, every piece of technology that we had,” Leonard said. “As he (Macpherson) was talking, it looked like we were all working in the back room. We were putting up maps and different graphics so it looked like every monitor was moving.”

The producer wanted Macpherson to talk about malicious hackers and cyber terrorists as they exist now and what the situation might be like in the future. He also wanted to know the role someone like Macpherson would play in the event of an actual cyber attack, as well as the steps being taken today to prevent an attack from happening.

“The show is hypothetical but it cuts to reality scenes. Our research helps people understand the threats,” Macpherson said.

While being filmed, Macpherson discussed the possibility of cyber attacks against the United States, who the “bad guys” are, and gave an overview of the capabilities individuals and organization could develop to attack the country’s infrastructure—a topic that will be presented Jan. 25 at a U.S. Department of Defense cyber crime conference.

The DOD presentation illustrates the findings of Macpherson’s student-led research to assess threat groups’ ability to launch a strategic cyber attack on the nation’s information technology infrastructure.

The team created a “cyber threat calculator” to quantify the level of threat an organization poses to specific sectors of the United States that rely on information technology by examining the organization’s intent and capabilities.

To determine the overall threat level, data is entered into the calculator—a particular group or country, for example--and a value is assigned to 28 variables for their intent and technological capabilities.

“I believe that UNH’s participation in the Discovery Channel show “Future 2057” will help educate people about the true nature of cyber threats. As computer networks become more integrated with all aspects of our lives and infrastructure there are increased risks,” Macpherson said. “What we won’t see is a “digital Pearl Harbor.” Using cyber attacks to take some type of infrastructure, military, or civilian out of commission is, over the long run, problematic.”

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