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Network World - The myriad threats to public, private and U.S. government networks is getting a ton of attention in Washington, D.C., this week as the House gets ready to debate yet another cybersecurity bill.
At a hearing -- "America is Under Cyber Attack: Why Urgent Action is Needed" -- a number of security experts spoke about the impact of attacks on the critical IT systems that make companies and the country run.
"It is difficult to overstate the potential harm these threats pose to our economy, our national security, and the critical infrastructure upon which our country relies. The number and sophistication of cyber-attacks has increased dramatically over the past five years and is expected to continue to grow," said Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director for the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services. Henry is now president of CrowdStrike Services. "The threat has reached the point that, given enough time, motivation, and funding, a determined adversary will likely penetrate any system that is accessible directly from the Internet."
As part of the hearing, the watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office laid out some of the basics of the security problems facing the industry.
"Cyber-based threats are evolving and growing and arise from a wide array of sources. These threats can be unintentional or intentional. Unintentional threats can be caused by software upgrades or defective equipment that inadvertently disrupt systems. Intentional threats include both targeted and untargeted attacks from a variety of sources, including criminal groups, hackers, disgruntled employees, foreign nations engaged in espionage and information warfare, and terrorists. These threat sources vary in terms of the capabilities of the actors, their willingness to act, and their motives, which can include monetary gain or political advantage, among others," said Gregory Wilshusen, director, Information Security Issues, with the GAO.
According to the GAO, the most common sources of cyberthreats include:
• Bot-network operators: Bot-net operators use a network, or bot-net, of compromised, remotely controlled systems to coordinate attacks and to distribute phishing schemes, spam, and malware attacks. The services of these networks are sometimes made available on underground markets (e.g., purchasing a denial-of-service attack or services to relay spam or phishing attacks).
• Criminal groups: Criminal groups seek to attack systems for monetary gain. Specifically, organized criminal groups use spam, phishing, and spyware/malware to commit identity theft, online fraud, and computer extortion. International corporate spies and criminal organizations also pose a threat to the United States through their ability to conduct industrial espionage and large-scale monetary theft and to hire or develop hacker talent.
• Hackers: Hackers break into networks for the thrill of the challenge, bragging rights in the hacker community, revenge, stalking, monetary gain, and political activism, among other reasons. While gaining unauthorized access once required a fair amount of skill or computer knowledge, hackers can now download attack scripts and protocols from the Internet and launch them against victim sites. Thus, while attack tools have become more sophisticated, they have also become easier to use. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the large majority of hackers do not have the requisite expertise to threaten difficult targets such as critical U.S. networks. Nevertheless, the worldwide population of hackers poses a relatively high threat of an isolated or brief disruption causing serious damage.