Terrorism acts vs cyber threats, new offense scenarios

Pierluigi Paganini February 02, 2012

We are at an historical turning point today in U.S., and the situation is similar all over the world, threat of terrorist acts have been surpassed by cyber threats, this is the opinion of FBI Director Robert Mueller. Cyber crime, cyber-espionage, massive attacks, hacktivism, usage of cyber weapons against critical infrastructure are all phenomena that are increasing in frequency and able to induce more terrible damages of a pure act of terrorism. Consider also that cyber crime are difficult to identify and can be perpetrated for a long time with in silent mode with terrifying consequence.

In terms of security , last year we have assisted to an escalation of cyber operations that in more than one occasion have distinguished themselves for effectiveness and damage done. I speak for example of the numerous raids of Chinese or Russian hackers against government and private computer facilities or the incredible number of attacks made by group of hacktivists like Anonymous hacktivists expressing their dissent to political decisions by a powerful cyber offence.

“I do not think  today it is necessarily number one threat, but it will be tomorrow,” Mueller said. “Counterterrorism — stopping terrorist attacks — with the FBI is the present number one priority. But down the road, the cyberthreat, which cuts across all [FBI] programs, will be the number one threat to the country.”

The message is clear, we are facing with a dangerous threat in constant and impressive grow and with serious offensive potential. The threat itself is complex in its genesis, as evidenced in fact we are dealing with a heterogeneous composition of risk factors which could lead to serious consequences concurrently. No matter if it is related to an attack by hostile government or by citizens disgruntled political decisions, the result is the same and we must implement measures to contain them.

Which is the level of preparedness of the major nations in the world against the cyber threats?

Israel, Finland and Sweden are the most prepared nations in terms of cyber defenses, meanwhile with great surprise those countries with most aggressive cyber strategy, like India, Iran and China, are facing with serious difficulties, according to a McAfee. Consider that nations like Israel undergo an impressive number of cyber attacks, an approximate estimation is around 1000 attacks every minute.

A good rank depends on several factors like the implementation of technological countermeasures (e.g firewalls, end point protection systems) and more complex matters including well-informed governance and education. To fight the threat is essential first of all a solid co operation between Governments and private sector, which effectively controls about 80% of the critical national infrastructure. The private sector is extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks and hold much of the intellectual property of the main countries.

Russia and China are the nations responsible for the major number of attacks moved to steal foreign intellectual property, trade secrets and national security information, that is the new frontier of espionage. From cyber security perspective we observed  an exponential grow of the threats, consider that every day more than 60,000 new malware are identified and with the same trend of growth we recorded continuous attacks of hacking groups to the main structures of a nation like the U.S..

Tracking back to origin of those malware we have found that control servers are often located in China and the intrusion mainly target firms in the defense industry, Sykipot agent is a good case study. What I personally care most is the organizational capacity of groups of hackers and criminal organizations that use increasingly advanced technologies on which they dedicate a continued focus in bringing about improvements.

Relating governmental cyber threats which are mainly active countries?
Researchers are convinced US and China are the most active because they are by far the most popular starting points for cyber attacks.
According a report of the Security firm NCC Group the US accounted for 22 per cent of all the world’s cyber attacks, while China was second with a 16 per cent share.
NCC estimates that the combined hacking attempts originating from the two countries hit the global economy by roughly $44 billions.
Russia was at third place with a responsibility for 3.6 per cent of attacks and a cost of roughly $4billion in damages, followed by Brazil with 3.5 per cent and Italy with 3.1 per cent of the world’s hacking activity. The impact on the the global economy it is therefore the object of considerable attention by the major security firms, cybersecurity market is rapidly growing.

We have often discussed the crime industry that operates following processes well defined and pursuing quality objectives as any big companies. During the last couple of year we had a long list of cyber attacks more of them really striking like the data breach of RSA and Symantec companies.

During the last couple of years we had a long list of cyber attacks really striking like the data breach of RSA and Symantec companies, don’t forget also the operations made by the Anonymous groups like the intrusion and the data breach in the systems of cyber-security firm HB Gary with more af 50,000 emails were exposed.
Regarding the cyber security there is an open debate on global scale, cyber threats have no countries, have no names, are an invisible enemy that could be dammed only with cooperation and awareness of entire populations.

Pierluigi Paganini




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