Cy­ber-thugs tar­get crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture

‘Re­peated at­tacks’ cost es­ti­mated at $6m a day

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

SAN FRAN­CISCO: Power plants, oil re­finer­ies and wa­ter sup­plies in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on the in­ter­net are un­der re­lent­less at­tack by cy­ber-spies and thugs, ac­cord­ing to a McAfee re­port.

The “Crit­i­cal In­fra­struc­ture in the Age of Cy­ber-War” anal­y­sis by the US-based Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said the price of “down­time” from ma­jor at­tacks ex­ceeds $6 mil­lion (R45m) a day.

“If cy­berspace is the Wild West, the sher­iff needs to get to Dodge City,” con­cluded the study com­mis­sioned by McAfee, which sells se­cu­rity soft­ware.

In most de­vel­oped coun­tries, op­er­at­ing sys­tems of crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture in­clud­ing power grids and oil re­finer­ies are linked to the Net where they can be tar­geted for at­tacks.

“There are ab­so­lutely for­eign en­ti­ties that would def­i­nitely con­duct (cy­ber) re­con­nais­sance of our power in­fra­struc­ture,” said Michael As­sante, chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cer of the North Amer­i­can Elec- tric Reli­a­bil­ity Cor­po­ra­tion.

“They would be looking to learn, get a foothold and try to main­tain sus­tained ac­cess to com­puter net­works.”

Re­searchers sur­veyed 600 IT and se­cu­rity ex­ec­u­tives from crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture en­ter­prises in 14 coun­tries in Septem­ber last year.

Op­er­a­tors of en­ter­prises re­ported that their net­works and con­trol sys­tems are un­der re­peated cy­ber-at­tack.

And while de­fences were deemed ac­cept­able, harsh eco­nomic con­di­tions had tight­ened spending on com­puter se­cu­rity while at­tack­ers had grown more so­phis­ti­cated.

“There is no iden­ti­fi­able pro­tec­tion model that will keep pace with the evo­lu­tion and so­phis­ti­ca­tion of cy­ber threats,” said As­sante.

“In ad­di­tion, in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, from cloud com­put­ing to Smart Grid me­ters and SCADA con­nec­tiv­ity, con­tinue to cre­ate new vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.”

While the most com­mon tar­get of at­tacks was fi­nan­cial in­for ma­tion, op­er­a­tors of en­ergy, oil, and gas fa­cil­i­ties saw as­saults on op­er­a­tional con­trols.

A third of the re­spon­dents saw the threat as grow­ing, while two-fifths ex­pected a ma­jor Net se­cu­rity in­ci­dent in their sec­tor within a year.

The US said Google’s prob­lems in China with cy­ber­at­tacks could de­ter US com­pa­nies from in­vest­ing in the Asian eco­nomic pow­er­house.

Google has threat­ened to aban­don its Chi­nese search en­gine, and per­haps end all op­er­a­tions in the coun­try over the re­cent at­tacks. It has also said it is no longer will­ing to bow to Chi­nese gov­ern­ment cen­sors.

China has said the hack­ing charges were without foun­da­tion.

Crit­i­cal sys­tems op­er­a­tors feared the po­ten­tial of cy­ber­war, the study said.

“Al­though at­tri­bu­tion is al­ways a chal­lenge in cy­ber­at­tacks, most own­ers and op­er­a­tors be­lieve that for­eign gov­ern­ments are al­ready en­gaged in at­tacks on crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture in their coun­try.

“Other cy­ber at­tack­ers range from in­di­vid­ual hack­ers and e-van­dals to or­gan­ised crime en­ter­prises. Fi­nan­cially mo­ti­vated at­tacks like ex­tor­tion and theft of ser­vice are wide­spread.”

Oil and nat­u­ral gas op­er­a­tions re­ported the high­est rates of “stealth in­fil­tra­tion” with 71 per­cent claim­ing to have been tar­geted.

One in five crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture en­ti­ties re­ported be­ing the vic­tim of ex­tor­tion through cy­ber-at­tack or threat­ened cy­ber-at­tack within the past two years.

Ex­tor­tion was de­scribed as de­mand­ing pay­ment to ap­pease at­tack­ers who threaten power cuts.

The study showed cy­ber ex­tor­tion to be most com­mon in In­dia, Saudi Ara­bia/Mid­dle East, China and France.

China reg­is­tered high­est in in­fra­struc­ture cy­ber-se­cu­rity while Italy, Spain and In­dia were at the low end of the spec­trum.

“As long as ma­jor gov­ern­ments de­sire unim­peded op­er­a­tional free­dom in cy­berspace, it will con­tinue to be the Wild West,” re­searchers said. – Sapa-AFP

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