Will WW3 be Cyber War?

August 5th, 2011
in econ_news

Hacker Econintersect:  A entire generation of youths around the world have been raised playing cyber games, many of them violent and others simply determining winners by who can control and/or totally dominate other players.  It seems that the game becomes a virtual reality for some.  A natural progression is for the universe of players to keep expanding, and maybe, in some cases, involving unwilling participants.  Some of these new unwilling players may be corporations, nations and international agencies, such as the U.N.

Follow up:

According to Reuters, attacks on a total of 72 organization networks around the world have been subjeted to cyber attacks.  These are the attacks that have been uncovered by just one computer security company, McAfee.  From Reuters:

The long list of victims in the extended campaign include the governments of the United States, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Canada; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the International Olympic Committee (IOC); the World Anti-Doping Agency; and an array of companies, from defense contractors to high-tech enterprises.

In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.

"Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators," McAfee's vice president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch, wrote in a 14-page report released on Wednesday.

McAfee has named the "Operation Shady RAT," where RAT stands for remote access tool.

McAfee has not named any specific company or country as the perpetrator of Operation Shady Rat, but a report in The Telegraph get quite specific and names China.  The Telegraph quotes Alperovitch further:

“Companies and government agencies are getting raped and pillaged every day. They are losing economic advantage and national secrets to unscrupulous competitors. This is the biggest transfer of wealth in terms of intellectual property in history,” he added.

The Daily Beast has also covered the story.  Here's some of what they had to say:

Worse yet, these attacks are probably only the beginning, says Joel Brenner, former director of national counterintelligence for the U.S. whose book America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime and Warfare will be published this fall.

“It would be foolish to assume that there are not going to be more attacks—real bad attacks,” Brenner says.

Huge parts of our infrastructure are susceptible, including our power grid, which now is connected to the Internet. Putting the grid online has made it easier to manage but “is profoundly unwise,” Brenner says. “Rational people buy down risk. We have increased it, and we are continuing to do so in the name of short-term efficiency.”

Brenner says he’s not predicting that terrorists will launch a cyberattack on the U.S. power grid. However, he says, “if there is an attack on the grid, no one should be surprised.”

Brenner says we’re not at war, but we have entered a new era in which “attacks are going to be part of the norm now, and they are going on in what is legally called 'peace.' We are being attacked. It isn’t war. War would be worse. But it’s really a serious problem. It’s operationally threatening, and we are getting our pockets picked.”

Richard Clarke, counter terrorism and cyber security official for the U.S. government, calls what is going on "very large scale industrial espionage" (The Daily Beast).  However, some of the victims have been the Pentagon and defense contractors.  That is getting close to warfare.

Sources:  Reuters, The Telegraph and The Daily Beast

Hat tip to Sanjeev Kulkarni.

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