World on the Brink of Global Cyber Warfare?




The latest annual security report from McAfee has singled out China as a particularly virulent source of international cyber espionage, with a number of Western nations said to have experienced significant episodes in the past year. However, there is evidence to suggest that a far more sinister online threat could be around the corner from nations other than China - state sponsored cyber attacks on vital infrastructure.


According to McAfee's Virtual Criminology Report China is not the only nation engaging in cyber spying and attacks on other countries.

“There are signs that intelligence agencies around the world are constantly probing other governments’ networks looking for strengths and weaknesses and developing new ways to gather intelligence,” says Peter Sommer, an expert in information systems and innovation at the London School of Economics, in a quote from the report.

However, intelligence gathered by Western agencies and researchers, including NATO, the FBI, SOCA, the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS), the International Institute for Counter -Terrorism in Israel and the London School of Economics, as well as some unverified reports in the press, indicate that China is believed to have launched cyber attacks or probes on the US, Germany, India and Australia and New Zealand.Some of these alleged attacks, which of course the Chinese Government vehemently denies, were actually quite serious in nature.

Aside from the expected alleged hack into the US Pentagon computers to steal military secrets, a massive operation launched from China reportedly hacked into German Government systems and siphoned off large volumes of data before being blocked, the email accounts of hundreds of Indian Government Ministers were and are still being raided by Chinese dial up Internet connections, and Chinese hackers allegedly tried to break into Australian and New Zealand highly classified Government computer networks.

According to details in the McAfee report, the scale and nature of the Chinese attacks suggested that they were not launched by private organizations.

However, hacking to steal state secrets is only one potential threat outlined by the McAfee report. The report suggests that an even more sinister threat that amounts to nothing less than cyber warfare could be awaiting the free world in 2008.

"Evidence suggests that governments and government-allied groups are now using the Internet for espionage and cyberattacks on the critical national infrastructure (financial markets, utility providers, air traffic control) of other countries. There were more reported cases in 2007 than any previous year. This growing threat is acknowledged by the United States Department of Defense," the McAfee report states.

This year, according to the report, Estonia experienced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on government, news and bank servers for several weeks. The incidents followed the removal of a Soviet statue from a central Tallinn Square to the outskirts of the city. At the height of these attacks, 20,000 networks of compromised computers were linked, and analysis of the malicious traffic showed that computers from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Vietnam and others were involved. The Estonian Government blamed Russia for instigating the attacks, while Russia denies involvement.

“The whole sequence of events (in Estonia) looked a lot like the sort of thing a government would do in order to check how much it could get away with. The whole thing bears the hallmark of a ‘false flag’ operation. We’ve seen terrorists carry out such ‘defense-probes’ ahead of physical attacks,” Ms Yael Shahar, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Israel, stated in the report.


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