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America's New War: Cracking the Terrorists' Codes

Aired September 24, 2001 - 06:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Osama bin Laden runs his shadowy network with a combination of high technology and old-fashioned whispers. This is a combination that has kept him one step ahead of the law for many, many years.

CNN's Daniel Sieberg joins us now. He's going to tell us how the U.S. might step in to crack bin Laden's cyber shield.

DANIEL SIEBERG: Good morning, Leon, a couple of things to point out. Bin Laden, in this case, a lot of analysts are seeing him having gone low tech or almost no tech. What he's seen in the past is that he has been tracked through technology.

He was using a satellite phone at various times during his -- when he was in power. In the last few years he stopped using that satellite phone because he recognizes that it can be tracked by authorities. So he's almost gone low tech, abandoning the technology himself; however, it's his followers, his network that are probably using different ways to avoid authorities like encryption to send messages over the Internet.

HARRIS: All right, explain for us an encryption. Now that's a term I'm quite familiar with, but a lot of people aren't very familiar with what encryption is.

SIEBERG: Right, absolutely. Encryption is a type of -- it's a way of encoding information between two people. If you're sending a message, you can even send your own e-mail encrypted to another person and there's various encryption software programs out there. They're actually fairly accessible. They can be downloaded off the Internet onto your computer and when you send a message out, it encrypts everything that you're sending.

Now the problem with some of this encryption software is that the government does not have the access to the keys to this encryption and it's widely available. So someone in bin Laden's group, for example, could have this encryption software, encode their messages and it's very difficult for the government to get into it.

HARRIS: Yes, it's a great -- it's a civil liberties issue here.

SIEBERG: It is in that case, yes, and that's actually renewed this debate on whether the government should have access to these keys or to the encryption code itself. HARRIS: Well let me ask you something, this -- some curious fact I heard talking -- I was talking to an expert about this a couple of weeks ago, a couple of months ago maybe, who told us that bin Laden and groups like his were using X-rated Web sites to encrypt their messages in the pictures. Is that -- is that possible?

SIEBERG: That's exactly right, actually. That's a step beyond encryption. That's something called stegonography. And to simplify that, what that means is encrypting something and then placing that encrypted file in something fairly innocuous like a Web page, like an image on a Web site. Music industry is actually doing this now with something called the watermark to protect their music files. It's literally embedded within something fairly innocuous so that authorities don't see it. When the person gets to it, they open it, decrypt it and then can read the message and it gets kind of under the radar.

HARRIS: Because you can't -- yes, but you have no idea when you're looking at it that there's actually something hidden there?

SIEBERG: Right, exactly. So at least with encryption authorities know that there may be a message going back and forth even though they can't read it. With stegonography, they may just see an image on a Web page and have no idea that there's something embedded within it.

HARRIS: That's interesting. So then what will the U.S. government -- or the other governments that will be brought into the coalition, what kind of tactics do you think they're going to try to accomplish?

SIEBERG: Well, the law enforcement authorities that I've spoken with won't confirm exactly what it is that they're doing to try and trace bin Laden, but because they have -- they suspect that they are probably sending e-mails and using encryption, they may use a number of things. One of them is an FBI tool called carnivore which some people may have heard of.

HARRIS: I've heard of that one, yes.

SIEBERG: Right, and it's what's called an Internet sniffer. It looks at Internet traffic that goes between two different people. It needs to be hooked up at an Internet service provider and it monitors the traffic that goes between two different people.

And there's also something else called echelon, and this is a very covert and widely debated satellite-based espionage network. And this is something that the U.S. in fact denies even exists. There was a European Parliament report that came out recently that concluded that it does exist and they claim that this eshilon system is able to monitor traffic whether it's communication, satellite, e-mail all over the world. The U.S. is saying it doesn't exist, but in this case they certainly could use it, if they had it, it would come in handy.

HARRIS: It sounds like something right out of a spy novel or something. SIEBERG: It is. In a sense it certainly is.

HARRIS: Yes, this is the real deal.

SIEBERG: Very James Bond.

HARRIS: Well, all right. Well thanks, James. Dan Sieberg, thanks much, appreciate the insight.

SIEBERG: All right, thanks.

HARRIS: All right.

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