Cyber Attacks are Fastest Growing National Security Threat

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bill Gerneglia


Cyber attacks are becoming increasingly common across the globe. Many Fortune 2000 companies as well as government agencies around the world are under frequent cyber attack of their core systems and services.

Cybercrime is a relatively new phenomenon but because of its recent scale and game-changing implications for both government and industry it is rapidly becoming the dominant risk theme of the 21st century.

The opportunity for cyber attacks grows daily as corporations and governments continue to amass information about individuals in complex networks across the Web. At the same time new generations of cyber activists, some motivated purely by money and others by the desire to expose and destabilize corporations and governments, continue to hack into organizational secrets.

No enterprise, no matter how small or benign, will ever be safe from attack in the future, with an estimated 250,000 site breaches reported in the last few years. 

Cybercriminals are fast becoming a threat that rivals terrorist groups like al Qaeda, according to the the FBI Director Mueller.

"Terrorism does remain the FBI's top priority, but in the not too-distant-future we anticipate that the cyberthreat will pose the greatest threat to our country," FBI Director Robert Mueller said while speaking to security professionals at the recent RSA conference in San Francisco.

"Today, terrorists have not used the Internet to launch a full-scale cyberattack, but we cannot underestimate their intent," he said.

After 9/11 the FBI invested heavily to develop new skill sets and formed more than 100 joint anti-terrorism task forces with other government agencies, military branches and local law enforcement organizations.

The FBI is following a similar model to fight cybercriminals. They have formed a dedicated cybersecurity squad in each of its 56 field offices and has 1,000 dedicated agents and analysts working on identifying Web threats, Mueller said.

They focus on three key threat groups: terrorists, organized crime rings and state-sponsored cyber espionage.

In general there are three main groups of hackers: 

1. The State sponsored hackers include China, Iran, Russia, Estonia, Israel. They are increasing the cyberwar stakes with its Stuxnet attack on the nuclear facilities of Iran, Indonesia, North Korea and Syria. Simultaneously, dictatorial regimes across the world, from Syria to Saudi Arabia have introduced extreme punitive measures to monitor and control access by dissidents, particularly during the Arab Spring. 

At times they have often coerced US and European technology companies to assist them, including Siemens- in the cross-hairs for assisting the autocratic Government of Bahrain track down dissidents.

2. The White hats are independent freelance hacker groups such as Anonymous/LulzSec. Their aim according to their manifesto is to expose the corruption and greed inherent in the playbooks of big business and rogue regimes powered by hyper-capitalism and intent on plundering the natural resources of the planet. They also support whistle-blower groups such as WikiLeaks and social activist groups in general.

3. The Black hats have much more clearly defined goals, from overtly criminal to destructive and anarchistic. They are aiming their attacks primarily on the Midas riches of credit card and financial databases across the globe, at the same time as China and Russia are hacking other Government's IP, email and trade secrets. 

Mueller did not mention China by name, but their prominence on the threat landscape was a common topic at this week's conference.

"State-sponsored hackers are patient and calculating," Mueller said. "They have the time, money and resources to burrow in and wait. You may discover one breach only to find that the real damage has been done at a much higher level."

Mueller brought forward a request for RSA's attendees to work togehter with the FBI in developing new methods to attack the problem and share experiences.

Many businesses do not wish to openly report security breaches. They see them as a shameful sign of weakness. 

Companies, especially publicly traded ones would rather handle problems privately than risk exposure and a time consuming investigation by an outside regulating industry agency. The latest trend by most fortune 2000 companies has been to hire a CISO with dedicated staff to thwart future and repeat cyber attacks at their organizations.

According to Mueller, "There are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those that will be. Even that is merging into one category: those that have been hacked and will be again," he told the crowd. "Maintaining a code of silence will not serve us in the long run."

Cross-posted from CIO Zone

Possibly Related Articles:
breaches Enterprise Security Hacking FBI Cyber Crime Hacktivist National Security Law Enforcement Cyber Espionage Robert Mueller
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