The freedom to connect Modern technology is increasingly becoming a part of everyone’s everyday life. We use the latest gadgets and Internet connections to communicate and do business.
But, with such convenience and high-tech connectivity come the risk of cyber attacks. Although such attacks were once aimed mainly at national secrets and technological developments, that is changing.
Speaking at a recent congressional hearing on future threats to U.S. national security, FBI Director Robert Mueller said cyber attacks are increasingly taking a wider aim. “As the global economy integrates many cyber threats now focus on economic or non-government targets as we have seen with the recent cyber attack on Google,” he explained. “Targets in the private sector are at least as vulnerable and the damage can be just as great.”
Cyber intrusion: one example for the need for global enforcement
The Internet search engine firm Google found that out in December when company officials say they detected a highly sophisticated attack that originated in China.
Google says the cyber intrusion targeted its intellectual property, and that 20 other enterprises, including Yahoo, Dow Chemical and defense contractor Northrop Grumman, also faced risks.
Larry Clinton is the head of the Internet Security Alliance, an organization that works to promote security for online business. He says online enterprises face enormous threats.
“In the world of cyber security, all of the incentives, favor the attackers,” Clinton said. “Cyber attacks are currently comparatively cheap, they are comparatively easy to launch, the amount you can steal is enormous. The chances of getting caught are fairly small.”
Clinton says with attackers enjoying a virtually limitless range of targets, and defense a generation behind the attacker, the annual economic losses from cyber threats are great. “The situation is extremely serious. Last year, American business probably lost a trillion dollars in intellectual property theft, there were billions more that were lost due to down time, inefficiency, etc.”
Countering threats and challenges
Randy Vickers is the acting director of the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team. He says one of the biggest challenges with cyber attacks is that there is never a single muzzle flash that tells you where the attack originated.
“With a cyber event, because there are multiple hot points, multiple places where it could be coming from, you cannot say that IP (i.e. Internet protocol) address or that workstation or that host or that Web site or that technological capability is the first place it originated from,” Vickers stated.
Vickers says intent is a key fingerprint used to track down attackers. “We are trying to understand those types of fingerprints so we can tie back to attribution,” he said. “ But it is long and arduous, and it comes back to what is the intent. Is it a hacktivist, is it a nation state, is it a terrorist, is it just a person out to prove that they can do something like the old days used to be?”
President Barack Obama has made cyber security a top priority for his administration, and has listed the threat from cyber weapons along with other weapons of mass destruction – such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Last year, he appointed a cyber czar to watch over the nation’s networks, from systems that direct planes
to those that help Americans pay their bills online.
ISA’s Clinton says the key to building more security is to give businesses more incentives to protect themselves from attacks.
“There is a public benefit that would come to everybody if we could substantially increase our cyber security, because even if I do everything to secure my system, if it interacts with your system and you are not secure, the attackers will get into your system, and through you, get to me,” Clinton explained.
Clinton says one way to boost cyber security is by encouraging smaller companies to do more to protect themselves from attacks by using tax incentives, government contracts, and small business administration assistance.
Because as he and other experts note, we are only as strong as our weakest link.