Home > Articles > Security > Network Security

Like this article? We recommend

A Digital Attack Scenario

The internationally hunted master terrorist, code named "Raptor," has instructed his sleeper cells in the United States to strike a hydroelectric dam in the southwestern United States. The strike team consists of four terrorist cells called A, B, C, and D.

Cells A and B have received their instruction via an anonymous encrypted remailer and get encrypted email that they access from a free web email site thru an anonymizing proxy from a local cyber-café in Phoenix. Cell C receives its instructions hidden in files on digital photographs on the auction site eBay. Cell D receives its message via IRC in channel #satanic_verses.

The coordinated attack is planned to take control of the "digital switches" at the dam, disable the phone system in the western United States, and confuse authorities and the local population serviced by the dam.

The five members of cell A split up after deciding on how to disrupt communications. Two arrive at the local headquarters of the regional phone company and "dumpster dive" for discarded records that show schedules, names, titles, and how day-to-day operations are conducted, and then they apply for various jobs at the phone company.

One of the cell members is tasked with learning how the phone system works. He goes to the local library, accesses the Net through the library's high-speed connection, and studies the material at http://www.etext.org/CuD/NFX/nfx-1, http://hybrid.dtmf.org/files/hybrid-files/ss7.txt, http://hybrid.dtmf.org/files/hybrid-files/bug.txt, and http://hybrid.dtmf.org/. Armed with this information, he locates a group of systems at the company that have a default password set and remote access, and begins setting up his attack to have calls originate from each PBX location and call 911 at the same time.

After a week, emails are sent disguised as spam and unsolicited commercial email (UCE) to all email addresses that are written on paper found discarded in the trash, including vendors and other associates that send and/or receive email from personnel inside the phone company.

Each email sent is infected with two viruses designed to capture keystrokes and documents and email them back to the cell members to free email addresses on Hotmail. In the meantime, by using a WHOIS search at the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the cell members have determined which IP block the phone company uses, and find an ISP/hosting company inside the same block. The cell now works out different denial-of-service (DoS) and vulnerability attacks against the company, as well as doing DNS AXFR requests against the various domains they've located by responses to WHOIS records, to create comprehensive lists of machines to attack inside the organization.

The phone company's web site is then mirrored and rewritten to show higher rates, people's calling patterns, how their data will be sold, and who and when to call to fix it. It's designed to look as real and believable as possible. To top off the disguise of the bogus site, a fake press release is prepared for placing on the Internet, describing the new phone company policies and changes.

The final piece is to perform a DoS attack on all of the servers at the phone company, and then spoof their web page to show the bogus info plus press release, and generate lots of phone and email traffic in the region. The result is that no one will be able to contact the phone company, and the phone company won't be able to make contact with anyone else while circuits for 911 get tied up, as well as slowing coordination inside the company to find out what's happening.

Another member of cell A (a professional programmer) gets a job as a receptionist. She manages to set up a reverse VPN through the corporate proxy server using an SSH tunnel to give her associates access to servers, documents, passwords, and so on.

Cell A passes all collected info back to Raptor, who in turn passes it back out to all other cells to use. Although this information may not be useful to Cell A, it's a treasure trove for other cells in the operation. The remaining two cell members hack up visitor badges for themselves as plumbers to get into the phone company's location, so they can get an idea of what wires can be cut or which systems need to be DoS'd from the inside. The receptionist assists in disruption of company operations by passing out virus-infected documents so that if anyone copies them from the file server, emails them, or takes them home, they can access and/or control any machines that become infected. She has also provided her username and password to her companions so that the internal wireless network can be used as a springboard from the outside. She'll call in sick the day of the attack.

Cell A waits....

Cell B is tasked with causing difficulty with the movement of traffic and communication that the public services and authorities must use. The objective is to prevent emergency response vehicles and personnel from physically responding to the confusion and damage that will result from the attack on the hydroelectric dam.

Cell B has been calling news agencies and reporting bomb threats every few days for 12 weeks. Using the resources at SGSI's digital maps site, they've been going into buildings they've found and pulling fire alarms while monitoring police and other agencies' responses on radio. They've also been slipping into public restrooms and removing the shutoff valves for water to cause localized building floods, with the intent of damaging any delicate equipment or infrastructure located beneath buildings that have been identified to have large Telco rooms or other communications equipment.

The combination of day and night false alarms and bomb threats are designed to beat down the response teams while testing how fast they are and what routes they take. That way, Cell B can cause car accidents, damage plumbing, and break fire hydrants to lower water pressure needed for firefighting, causing massive delays in emergency response times.

Cell B waits....

Cell C has been tasked with disinformation to cause confusion both online and off. They've collected the email addresses of journalists and TV, print, radio, and other mediums and have set up spamming software to spoof them from false email addresses and relay them through open servers. All cell members have been provided with a list of names, phone numbers, and titles of people to call and email with misinformation/lies so those people won't be where they're needed. The list includes police, doctors, fireman, company officials, and others who need to be delayed in getting to places where they can coordinate activities.

Members of cell C have also managed to crack a few web sites that post news content and have scripts standing by to deface all of the servers at the same time with various disinformation messages that look like real news stories. Each email and web page message says that there is a bomb in a different part of the city and each one makes a claim that it's a different group with a different reason. Many of the messages and exploits will be conducted from various locations through open wireless access points so that the data will look as though it originated from inside those companies that have legitimacy and be impossible to trace back to the cell. All this information is passed on to Raptor.

Cell C waits....

Cell D is responsible for the actual attack, timed for Monday morning at the opening of the stock market on Wall Street. Members of cell D have gained root access to the hydroelectric digital switches at the dam and are prepared to open the floodgates and disrupt the electrical grid to which the dam is connected.

Root access was done by a member of cell D who discovered a misconfigured proxy server acting as a doorway between the public Internet and the dam's private intranet. The proxy was on a different network dealing with information on guided tours of the dam, but was trusted by their internal network. He quickly found the intranet home page and a list of employees at the dam. Armed with that information, the cell member could use the intranet account of any employee who hadn't changed his or her password from the default. One of those belonged to a worker who had the power to create new accounts, so the cell member set up his own account on the network with higher privileges. While probing for access via the proxy, members of cell D discover a wireless access point. The wireless LAN had just been installed to be used by dam inspectors. From there it was a short hop to gaining root access.

Cell D notifies Raptor that all is in place for a 9 a.m. attack. Raptor confirms and alerts all other cells that the attack is to begin at 9 a.m. EST.

At 9 a.m. EST, warning lights appear on the dam's control panel. Dam employees looked aghast at the dam's status boards and see that the floodgates are opening all the way. They try to shut them, to no avail. But that isn't the worst of it. Somehow the digital switches that control the dam's access to the power grid go offline and all electrical power to the major metropolitan area below the dam goes out.

The dam's employees have to act fast. They attempt to call supervisory personnel offsite, but the phone system is down. They try to call police and other emergency personnel in the area and the city below—but that fails, too. A wall of water is headed to Phoenix, a city now totally without power—and communications.

By the time word reaches authorities in Phoenix, there is little time left to mount an emergency response. And the response that is mounted is delayed and confused by the actions of cell C.

When news of the emergency in Phoenix hits the main newswires, those in other parts of the country try to access the web sites of the regional phone company, dam info, and news agencies, and are greeted with the hijacked web pages of the terrorists that were inserted, sowing even more confusion.

Responding to the false information distributed by the terrorists and the potential catastrophe in Phoenix, the stock market, not knowing what infrastructure could be next, goes into a tailspin.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020