Cyber war sure to escalate in 2008

Well over hundred countries are developing ways to attack computer networks as means of waging war against other nations.

Cyber warfare waged over the world's computers will become one of the biggest threats to security in the next decade, according to a report published by computer security company McAfee.

The Virtual Criminology Report, which was compiled with input from academics and officials from Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Nato, warns that intelligence agencies already routinely spy on other countries' networks and test them for weaknesses.

Although China is named in the report as being at the forefront of this cyber warfare, McAfee said about 120 countries are developing ways to use the internet as a weapon to target other states' computer networks; including national grids, financial markets, banks and government departments such as tax and benefits.

Russia has done that not that long ago when it tried to, and succeeded, so I believe, to hack into the infrastructure computer networks of one of the Baltic states, that once were part of the Soviet empire.

Lilian Edwards, a co-writer of the report and professor of internet law at Southampton University, has stated that such attacks had already happened in the UK.

She referred a recent incident when Chinese hackers attacked the computer networks of British Government departments. Furthermore an organised Chinese hacking group shut down part of the House of Commons computer system.

According to Whitehall, in September this 2007, Chinese hackers targetted the networks of the Foreign Office and other key departments.

“Attacks like this are already happening in the UK. Computers control a big part of the UK's infrastructure, including services such as transport, electricity and also people's hospital records. Cyber spying can knock out the computer network, putting services out of commission until the problem is rectified," Edwards said.

She called on the Government to take responsibility in securing its networks as well as thinking carefully about where it stored people’s personal data.
However, according to Edwards, it's not just the Government's responsibility. The public also has a part to play because many home PCs become infected with zombies and botnets and can infiltrate other networks.

“Home users need to make sure they have the basic security in place to make sure botnets don’t build up,” she said.

McAfee also found that 2008 would see an increased threat to consumers.

It said online services such as banking will continue to be targets and a complex and sophisticated market for malware will emerge. It referred to the Storm Worm which it said was the first example of such malware and said future attacks would be based on this.

The problem though often is that consumers, ordinary computer users, have little or no idea of the fact that they need to secure their Windows computers against all manner of threats. In fact so many run with outdated anti-virus software that it is no longer funny.

Home users and home business users also always seem to think that they have to spend vast sums on anti-virus software and annual licenses and such but there are free programs “on the market”, FREE for the simple download, that perform as well if not, often, better than there paid for competition.

I personally, aside from using Linux in some occasions, have my Windows computers secured with FREE software that have caught the viruses and other malware that the likes of McAfee and Symantec, though updated the same as my free ones, missed and let through.

McAfee also said that criminals would be likely to target new threats such the targeting of internet telephony. This included vishing (phishing via internet telephony known as VoIP) attacks and phreaking (hacking into telephone networks to make long distance phone calls).

This can be done because most VoIP calls travel across the public internet, so hackers can capture VoIP packets in the same way as data packets. Hackers can then use the address found in the packet to call the user and direct them to a site or use any personal details being spoken about.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008