Ultimately, countries that launch such attacks will pay a price, says Howard Schmidt, former cybersecurity coordinator and special assistant to the president. The U.S. response could involve economic sanctions -- or it could involve the use of military power.
-- Robert L. Mitchell
Hacking on the Rise
Cyberattackers fall into three primary categories: criminal organizations interested in stealing for monetary gain, hacktivists bent on furthering their own agendas, and foreign governments, or their agents, aiming to steal information or lay the groundwork for later attacks.
The Chinese are the most persistent, with several tiers of groups participating, says Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at security consultancy Mandiant. Below official state-sponsored attacks are breaches by state militias, quasi-military and quasi-government organizations, and what he calls "patriotic hackers."
"It's almost a career path," says Bejtlich.
There's disagreement on which groups are the most sophisticated or dangerous, but that's not what matters. What matters is that the universe of attackers is expanding and they have ready access to an ever-growing wealth of knowledge about hacking, along with black hat tools helpful in launching attacks. "Over the next five years, low-level actors will get more sophisticated and the Internet [will expand] into areas of the Third World where the rule of law is weaker," says Gen. Michael Hayden, principal at security consultancy The Chertoff Group. "The part of the world responsible for criminal groups such as the Somali pirates is going to get wired."
-- Robert L. Mitchell
Telecoms Deal With Escalating DDoS Threat
Electric grid operators worry about compromised computerized industrial control systems taking them offline. Telecommunications companies worry that a large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack will take out another type of critical infrastructure: the Internet.
Until 2009 or so, AT&T might have seen one major DDoS attack a year, says Edward Amoroso, chief security officer and a senior vice president at the telecommunications giant. Today, Tier 1 Internet service providers find themselves fending off a few dozen attacks at any given moment. "It used to be two guys bailing out the ship. Now we have 40, 50 or 60 people dumping the water out all the time," he says. In fact, attacks have been scaling up to the point where Amoroso says he worries they could potentially flood backbone networks, taking portions of the Internet offline.