The Sum of All Security Fears

Cyber Espionage – A Growing Threat to National Security
by: Jerry Liao

Time and again, our nationality security was threatened by incidents that are highly questionable. Let us start with the Glorietta explosion – was it a bomb or was it a gas leak that causes the explosion? How about the bomb that rocked the Philippine Congress, how did that escaped the authorities? And the very recent incident, the checking in of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and General Danilo Lim inside Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati, why was he allowed to get out of the court during his trial? All incidents pertaining to Security lapses.

In the online world, security has been a problem and will become a much bigger problem. Attacks are happening without the knowledge of the victim and attacks are now profit oriented – it’s now all about money. Here’s another problem everyone of us should prepare for, especially our government – CYBER ESPIONAGE.

McAfee, Inc. announced findings from its annual cyber security study in which experts warned that the rise in international cyber spying will pose the single biggest security threat in 2008. Other major trends include an increasing threat to online services such as banking, and the emergence of a complex and sophisticated market for malware.

The annual McAfee Virtual Criminology Report examines emerging global cyber security trends, with input from NATO, the FBI, SOCA and experts from leading groups and universities. The report finds the following conclusions:

– Governments and allied groups are using the Internet for cyber spying and cyber attacks.

– Targets include critical national infrastructure network systems such as electricity, air traffic control, financial markets and government computer networks.

– 120 countries are now using the Internet for Web espionage operations.

– Many cyber attacks originate from China, and the Chinese government has publicly stated that it is pursuing activities in cyber espionage.

– Cyber assaults have become more sophisticated in their nature, designed to specifically slip under the radar of government cyber defenses.

– Attacks have progressed from initial curiosity probes to well-funded and well-organized operations for political, military, economic and technical espionage.

“Cybercrime is now a global issue,” said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs and product development. “It has evolved significantly and is no longer just a threat to industry and individuals but increasingly to national security. We’re seeing emerging threats from increasingly sophisticated groups attacking organizations around the world. Technology is only part of the solution, and over the next five years we will start to see international governments take action.”

Aside from cyber espionage, sophisticated threats to personal data and online services are also increasing. The report indicated the following:

– Genetically modified ‘super’ threats: There is a new level of complexity in malware not seen before. These ‘super-strength’ threats are more resilient,

are modified over and over again like recombinant DNA, and contain highly sophisticated functionality such as encryption draw. Nuwar (‘Storm Worm’) was the first example, and experts say there will be more examples in 2008.

– New technology, new threats — vishing and phreaking: A new target for cybercriminals is Voice over IP (Internet Protocol) software. There have been several high-profile ‘vishing’ (phishing via VoIP) attacks and ‘phreaking’ (hacking into telephone networks to make long distance phone calls). In Japan, 50 percent of all data breaches have been via peer-to-peer software. Cybercriminals will look for ways to exploit the popularity of applications on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

– A run on banks: Experts believe a sustained cyber attack on banks could severely damage public trust in online banking and put the brakes on e-commerce. Critics believe the efforts to address online banking security will not be effective enough or fast enough.

A complex and sophisticated market for the tools of cybercrime

– Cybercriminals offer customer service: This underground economy already includes specialized auction sites, product advertising and even support services, but now competition is so fierce that ‘customer service’ has become a specific selling point.

– Laws of supply and demand apply: The cost of renting a platform for spamming has dropped, and criminals can now buy custom-written Trojans built to steal credit card data.

– ‘White market’ fueling thriving black market: The ‘white market’ that exists to buy and sell software flaws (back-door vulnerabilities with no available patch to fix them) is fueling a virtual arms trade in potentially significant security threats. Software flaws can fetch big money — up to $75,000, and experts believe that while this white market exists there is an increasing danger of flaws falling into the hands of cybercriminals.

Let this report be a warning and a challenge at the same time to our government and to all of us cyber citizens. Fighting cyber criminals is a lot more difficult than fighting real world criminals. You may stop a rebellion by bringing in Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) inside a hotel, but how do you stop a group or a country stealing information from another country? Worst, we may not even know who our enemies are.

Perhaps some of you might say this is one advantage the Philippine has since we are not that wired yet. Well it’s a chicken and an egg thing. Do we remain unwired and be left behind by other countries or do we wire ourselves and be exposed to cyber espionage? I rather go with the later since all we have to do is to be prepared. The dangers were already identified, we were already informed.

I just hope that if and when the said report happen, we will have our defense rightly in place. As I always say, the solution is we fight technology with technology, knowledge with knowledge. The question is do we have the right technology and do we have the right knowledge?

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