"There is no question in my mind that the biggest story of the year was the NYT revelation that the US was behind Operation Olympic Games in which they developed and successfully deployed Stuxnet," said Richard Stiennon, principal analyst at security consultancy IT-Harvest.
"Nation states are now undeniably in the game of cyber attacks. Olympic Games ushered in the era of weaponized software. There is no looking back," Stiennon said. "At the same time, as countries get into offensive cyberattacks, the defensive side is finally taking a turn for the better." Expect heightened awareness of the threat to result in new investments in 2013 on the tools and people needed to counter targeted state sponsored attacks, he said.
Many of the security incidents that made the news last year, including a massive breach at the South Carolina Department of Revenue, involved highly targeted attacks that combined social engineering techniques with sophisticated data stealing Trojans and other malware. In May, the U.S. Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) issued an advisory warning gas pipeline companies to be on the lookout for targeted phishing attacks and intrusions.
In December, security firm RSA issued a similar alert warning more than two dozen banks about targeted attacks.
According to Verizon, expect such attacks to increase going forward. Large, high-profile enterprises and companies in the financial services and insurance sectors in particular are likely to be more vulnerable to such attacks. In fact, almost seven out of 10 targeted attacks already are directed at large companies, Verizon noted in its 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report.
"Targeted attacks from adversaries motivated by espionage and hacktivism ..will continue to occur, so it's critical to be watchful on this front," the company said.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.