The six greatest threats to US network security

Security threats from government insiders, foreign countries, terrorists all pose grave threats, GAO reports.

It's not a very good day when a security report concludes: Disruptive cyber activities expected to become the norm in future political and military conflicts. But such was the case today as the Government Accountability Office today took yet another critical look at the US federal security systems and found most of them lacking.    

From the GAO: "The growing connectivity between information systems, the Internet, and other infrastructures creates opportunities for attackers to disrupt telecommunications, electrical power, and other critical services. As government, private sector, and personal activities continue to move to networked operations, as digital systems add ever more capabilities, as wireless systems become more ubiquitous, and as the design, manufacture, and service of information technology have moved overseas, the threat will continue to grow. " 

Within today's report, the GAO broadly outline the groups and types of individuals considered to be what it called key sources of cyber threats to our nation's information systems and cyber infrastructures.  From the GAO: 

Foreign nations: Foreign intelligence services use cyber tools as part of their information gathering and espionage activities. According to the Director of National Intelligence, a growing array of state and nonstate adversaries are increasingly targeting-for exploitation and potential disruption or destruction-information infrastructure, including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers in critical industries.

 Criminal groups: There is an increased use of cyber intrusions by criminal groups that attack systems for monetary gain. 

Hackers:Hackers sometimes crack into networks for the thrill of the challenge or for bragging rights in the hacker community. While remote cracking 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, attack tools have become more sophisticated and easier to use.

Hacktivists: Hacktivism refers to politically motivated attacks on publicly accessible Web pages or e-mail servers. These groups and individuals overload e-mail servers and hack into Web sites to send a political message.

Disgruntled insiders: The disgruntled insider, working from within an organization, is a principal source of computer crimes. Insiders may not need a great deal of knowledge about computer intrusions because their knowledge of a victim system often allows them to gain unrestricted access to cause damage to the system or to steal system data. The insider threat also includes contractor personnel.

Terrorists: Terrorists seek to destroy, incapacitate, or exploit critical infrastructures to threaten national security, cause mass casualties, weaken the U.S. economy, and damage public morale and confidence. However, traditional terrorist adversaries of the United States have been less developed in their computer network capabilities than other adversaries. The Central Intelligence Agency believes terrorists will stay focused on traditional attack methods, but it anticipates growing cyber threats as a more technically competent generation enters the ranks. 

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security today, FBI Deputy Assistant Director, Cyber Division said that while the FBI has not yet seen a high level of end-to-end cyber sophistication within terrorist organizations, it is aware of and investigating individuals who are affiliated with or sympathetic to al Qaeda who have recognized and discussed the vulnerabilities of the U.S. infrastructure to cyber attack; who have demonstrated an interest in elevating their computer hacking skills; and who are seeking more sophisticated capabilities from outside of their close-knit circles. 

"In addition, it is always worth remaining mindful that terrorists do not require long term, persistent network access to accomplish some or all of their goals. Rather, a compelling act of terror in cyberspace could take advantage of a limited window of opportunity to access and then destroy portions of our networked infrastructure. The likelihood that such an opportunity will present itself to terrorists is increased by the fact that we, as a nation, continue to deploy new technologies without having in place sufficient hardware or software assurance schemes, or sufficient security processes that extend through the entire lifecycle of our networks," Chabinsky said.

 Layer 8 in a box

Check out these other cool stories:

NASA, Microsoft want you to be a Martian

Tracking the world's great unsolved math mysteries

NASA space shuttle's cosmic cuisine

NASA offers $400,000 prize  for super space glove

NASA to power Mars rover out of sand trap

Military wants lightweight fiber lasers for unmanned aircraft

Damn the torpedoes: NASA, European Space agency want to go to Mars

Commercial space operations seeing big cash infusion

Airborne lasers make high-speed military network zip

Air Force: US decades behind on satellite protection

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)