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Government-Sponsored Cyberattacks on the Rise 96

Posted by Zonk
from the less-of-a-pr-disaster-too dept.
jbrodkin writes "A new McAfee report finds that 120 countries, notably the United States and China, are regularly launching Web-based espionage campaigns. Government-sponsored cyber attacks against enemy countries are becoming more common, targeting critical systems including electricity, air traffic control, financial markets and government computer networks. This year, Russia allegedly attacked Estonian government news and bank servers, while China was accused of hacking into the Pentagon. A McAfee researcher says this trend will accelerate, noting 'it's easier to attack government X's database than it is to nuke their troops.'"
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Government-Sponsored Cyberattacks on the Rise

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  • I am amazed that it is only happening now. Years ago I was already thinking that it would happen a lot. Maybe it did, but that only now people are reporting about it?
    • by LanMan04 (790429)
      These kind of attacks have been going on for years and years. Nothing new.

      SCADA attacks are as old as the hills.
    • by sgt_doom (655561)
      Gee Whiz, phsdv, do you think it might just be happening now because Micro$oft sold their OS source code to China several years back? Or possibly because EVERY FRIGGING tech company in America (and many in Euroland and Japan and Taiwan) has offshored tons and tons of ever increasing tons of tech and manufacturing jobs to China? Or maybe it has to do with the tooth fairy?
  • by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot@exit0.COMMAus minus punct> on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:26PM (#21535527) Homepage

    ...noting 'it's easier to attack government X's database than it is to nuke their troops.'

    But it's easier on the environment, too!!

  • How ironic... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by feepness (543479) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:27PM (#21535545) Homepage
    That something designed to protect communication infrastructure in time of war has instead become "easier to attack" than the target itself.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by megaditto (982598)
      It's not easier, it's just less likely to provoke an all-out nuke exchange.
    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      Iron? No.

      It is easier to attack. But it is not easier to shut down.

      Of course it is easier to attack, it is the ARMOR the country's communication system wears. It is what is exposed to attack, so it is easier to attack.

    • by FauxReal (653820)
      I dunno, since it's designed to protect, wouldn't it be the first target? Then again it's not DarpaNet anymore... it's gone way beyond that and carries so much more information. Sections of which, BTW are always breaking and causing minor problems. It's no longer the tightly controlled and standardized network that it once was.
  • jbrodkin is launching an attack on the networkworld.com website; slashdotting is inevitable
  • by QuantumFTL (197300) <justin.wick@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:32PM (#21535637)
    Is anyone really surprised by this? As long as there is something to gain, and there are not suitable deterrents, governments tend to do these kinds of things. Indeed the United States would be foolish to sit back as others engage in cyberespionage.

    Yet another good reason to keep your computers secure!
    • by calebt3 (1098475)
      I doubt even the majority of /.ers could keep a government hacker out of their systems.
      • I thought it was the other way around.... :/
      • by rucs_hack (784150)
        I doubt even the majority of /.ers could keep a government hacker out of their systems.

        I could. It's called 'unplugging your computer from the internet'.
        • by calebt3 (1098475)
          Touché.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cumin (1141433)

          I think this is exactly the point I haven't seen anybody making, but that we're all feeling. If governments are actively engaging in hacking, assuming they find competent hackers, what is to stop somebody from using the tools to hit innocent civilians? Of course they could, of course they might, and maybe planting a little evidence? How would you prove it?

          It goes toward that mentality of finding evidence, then getting a warrant. If you think John Citizen might be doing something wrong, you simply use the o

          • John Citizen suffers, maybe never knowing his expectation of privacy has been shredded.
            So let me get this straight: John Citizen gets spied upon because he is in the unusual position of being suspected (mistakenly) for a crime that warrants cyber-snooping from the government, who look at his files, find he's not the one they're after, John has no idea this has gone on? OK, fair enough, but how does he suffer?
            • by cumin (1141433)

              You got some of it exactly straight, but I wouldn't say that it is unusual to be in a position of being mistakenly suspected for a crime. I didn't say it warrants cyber-snooping, because the point is that it doesn't have to.

              Suffer: 3. To be injured; to sustain loss or damage. (dictionary.net)

              I'd say that John clearly 'suffers' the loss of privacy and his rights under the Fourth Amendment:

              The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches a

        • by Firethorn (177587)
          That's where more traditional methods come into your place. IE agents pick the lock on your place, enter your house and place a keylogger in your keyboard.

          Or open your computer and copy your HD.

          They want it badly enough, they're going to get it.

          I'm just surprised to see this now, I mean, it's been months since the news that the USAF is forming a command to conduct cyberwarfare.
        • You would no longer be a /.er at that point, however.
    • http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=374805&cid=21522989 [slashdot.org]

      Yes, foolish to let other governments have all the totalitarian fun. I'm reasonably certain that the current administration has been using their toys to spy on us all.
      • Can you blame a governing institution for taking what their constituents give them?! We live in a democracy, and our voters have proven they are willing to do little or nothing to prevent the loss of their natural rights.
    • to quote Lynval Golding. What did your mother teach you about everyone jumping off a bridge, anyway?

      Indeed the United States would be foolish to sit back as others engage in cyberespionage.

      I think the activity is more at punking than espionage, in any case.

      • by QuantumFTL (197300) <justin.wick@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:00PM (#21536107)
        What did your mother teach you about everyone jumping off a bridge, anyway?

        This isn't like jumping off of a bridge. There's a breal, tangible benefit here, and if the situation is assymetric, our country would be best off if it were asymmetric in our favor.

        Part of our "evil" plan to control the entire world involves us performing acts of espionage against just about every other country.

        Every country does it, because that's how a country survives. If there was no such thing as war and terrorism (whatever the cause) maybe that would not be the case. But as long as other countries threaten our position, our livelihood, and even our very existence (and in the nuclear age, yes they do) we're gonna have to collect information through just about every available means. It may not be "nice" but it is a smart move.
        • +1, Funny (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rodentia (102779)
          Part of our "evil" plan to control the entire world involves us performing acts of espionage against just about every other country.

          Nothing *evil* about our plans or anyone elses.

          because that's how a country survives.

          I consider rather that countries survive by learning how to evade history, the hysterical story of global capitalism. See another of my replies to TFA.

          Your primary mistake is not to overstate the risk, but to misplace it. *Nations* do not function as discrete moral units in soci
          • How is the USA a "national accident"? According to my history lessons, documentaries I've watched, and books and articles I've read, there was nothing accidental about the formation of the USA. It is my understanding that the colonial rebels laid out political boundaries and fought off the UK. Subsequent states with set political boundaries agreed to join the union through a democratic process.

            Germany, France, and Italy, just to name a few examples, are nations where political boundaries are more or less ge
            • by greenbird (859670) *

              Germany, France, and Italy, just to name a few examples, are nations where political boundaries are more or less geographic or where the last boundary war left off.

              You do realize that Italy and Germany didn't exist until 1866 and 1870 respectively. What geographic magic happened in those years to suddenly establish those geographic political boundaries?

              That aside I'm guessing that the GP was referring to the concept of nations as a whole as an artificial grouping that serves no real purpose other than supporting a "political class" that serves no purpose other than restricting the individual potential as a whole. Or something along those lines anyway. It wasn't ver

  • . . . we'll all soon recognize the degree to which these *nations* are practically indistinguishable from criminal cartels, but with priviledged access to hysteria, er, history.

    • by foobsr (693224)
      . . . we'll all soon recognize the degree to which these *nations* are practically indistinguishable from criminal cartels, but with priviledged access to hysteria, er, history.

      "... for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one." -Albert Einstein

      Along this path, 'soon' passes.

      CC.
      • Theoretical physics has that luxury, dealing in pure abstraction. All reality may be ineffable, indeed, but human communication is diachronic, as is human attention.

        We are dealing in the interactions of collections of particles called beings; rather, collections of those collections.

        Your comment floored me, but on second glance it is at once right as rain and false as a wooden nickel.

        • by foobsr (693224)
          at once right as rain and false as a wooden nickel

          Like 'eternal truth', showing the 'nonsense' in the concept of 'truth' as well.

          Your comment floored me

          More like: 'I floored myself'.

          CC.
  • which is better? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid (1011935) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:36PM (#21535721)
    What do people here think is better...a physical attack (with guns, bombs, etc) where live are being lost, or cyber attacks where lives are not being lost (to the best of my knowledge..please correct me if I'm overlooking something).
    • This is not about warfare, this is about espionage, so that when warfare is upon us we can better conduct a physical attack. It's not like "Oh shit you broke into my computer, I guess we'll stop building these missles now". It's more like "Hey China has a foo weapon! I found it in their database!", "Oh shit! Let's tell someone to go blow it up!"

      It's too bad we can't be like the Native Central Americans of yesteryear and just play lacrosse instead of have war (granted people got killed, but not near as many
    • by Torvaun (1040898)
      It depends. Are any of the cyberattacks going to shut down power grids? If so, are there any hospitals on those power grids? Cyberattacks can kill too.
    • by sa1lnr (669048)
      "targeting critical systems including electricity, air traffic control"

      Those two have some potential.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by l4m3z0r (799504)

      Completely not joking, a physical attack is better and heres why. Physical destruction of lives and things pisses off the populace. People will get up in arms about ending the war and making peace. If its "just" some cyber attacks people will be apt to let it go on a long time or indefinitely being a constant strain on the economy. The economy as you know is what feeds us. If cyberwar destroys the economy to the point where unemployment is riding high thats much worse off than a few thousand killed bef

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by aztektum (170569)
        Yes I'd much rather have hundreds/thousands of people killed, hundreds/thousands/millions maimed, and hundreds/thousands/millions of survivors grieving and scarred for life than face up to the fact that "Oh shit, the economy is swirling the drain. My money is now worthless and I can't buy that $SHINY_GIZMO."

        Economies are far more easily rebuilt. Placing an economic system above lives is utterly naive and shows a complete lack of self-sufficiency, IMO.

        If the concern over economic collapse through hack attack
        • by TheSeer2 (949925)
          They call it... hyperinflation.
        • Yes I'd much rather have hundreds/thousands of people killed, hundreds/thousands/millions maimed, and hundreds/thousands/millions of survivors grieving and scarred for life than face up to the fact that "Oh shit, the economy is swirling the drain. My money is now worthless and I can't buy that $SHINY_GIZMO."

          Yes, because money is only for buying shiny gizmos, not food/clothing/shelter/medicine. Would you rather have thousands of people killed outright, or millions starving to death?

          • by aztektum (170569)
            See the part about inability to be self sufficient. Go out and kill a rabbit or plant some damn vegetables. If for some reason money is suddenly worth jack shit, you think society would really rip itself apart? Some people, maybe, would be fucked. Anyone who knows more than what the TV tells them will figure it out.
      • Most cyber attacks are designed to acquire actionable intelligence. And in a lot of cases that intelligence, when put into the wrong hands, can cost lives. I don't think that anyone would like to see either kind of attack. Both are harmful and both can kill.
      • by Isaac-Lew (623)
        You do realize that attacking certain infrastructure components could lead to injury and/or loss of life? Examples: air traffic control, traffic lights in a city during rush hour, a computerized railway system, even a water treatment plant (oops, too much bacteria was left in the water).
    • With the US, the idea is to use a cyber attack as a precursor to a physical attack. At least that's what we did prior to gulf war 1 (probably 2 also). China is just doing a bit of digital reconnaissance.
  • Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Otter (3800) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:38PM (#21535753) Journal
    "Cyber assaults have become more sophisticated in their nature, designed to specifically slip under the radar of government cyber defenses," McAfee states. "Attacks have progressed from initial curiosity probes to well-funded and well-organized operations for political, military, economic and technical espionage."

    I'm completely not understanding how the linked article is derived from this "McAfee's Virtual Criminology Report". The version I'm seeing has nothing to do with "government-sponsored cyberattacks" and doesn't contain this quote.

  • Wasn't the attack on Estonia actually conducted by the Storm botnet?
    • As far as I understand, the attack was instigated by various pro-Kremlin organizations like Nashi. While they're officially independent, they regularly get discreet support from high-level Kremlin politicians and bureaucrats. Considering the amount of thuggery and shady operations that are consistently tied to these organizations, it wouldn't surprise me that one or other botnet was used in the process. However, this in no way diminishes the support that this attack has had from the Kremlin. On the contrary
  • This really doesn't even call for a comment...The fact that any country that has use of computers is in some way shape or form using cyber espionage isn't something new. I believe the simple use of codebreakers in WWII was the beginning of this and it will become more prevelant as the information super highway grows and more and more countries put there servers on the net to exchange information between bases and so forth. This is nothing new and will continue to grow.
  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:58PM (#21536089) Journal
    Sorry to be nitpicking, but it *IS* easier to drop a nuke than to attack a correctly set-up network.

    Hollywood managed to persuade everyone that with a few million dollars and a rock-star hacker it is possible to break into the most secure systems. The fact is that when sysadmins have been doing their jobs, it is easier to conduct a physical attack than a networked one. Do you think that electronic money could exist otherwise ?
    • Re:No (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Vanden (103995) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:09PM (#21536277) Homepage
      Given your assumptions of "correctly set-up network" and "sysadmins have been doing their jobs", I would agree.

      However, most of us know that many networks are vulnerable to attack because they're neither correctly set-up nor are their admins doing their jobs. In these cases, even a no-talent script kiddie could break in easier than a government could launch a nuclear attack.
    • by Bri3D (584578)
      It's easier to attack the network no matter what, for two reasons:
      1) If you fail, you don't die.
      2) Nobody notices when you succeed, and you're free to do whatever with the information you've got.

      If someone notices you've failed (or succeeded), you're likely to be prosecuted in your country of residence. Unless you're hacking for the government, in which case... exactly nothing happens.

      Wheras if you fail at dropping a nuke (i.e. the nuke somehow gets destroyed by a "missile defense system") you die. Quickly.
    • Sorry to be nitpicking, but it *IS* easier to drop a nuke than to attack a correctly set-up network.

      How many government networks do you suppose are correctly set up? Nevermind commercial networks, which don't even have the benefit of government standards on securing their systems.

  • RTFR! (Score:4, Informative)

    by cfulmer (3166) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:02PM (#21536149) Homepage Journal
    Argh. The report [mcafee.com] (possible sign-in required) DOES NOT say that the US is conduction cyber-espionage activities. (Note: the linked-to article in the parent points to the 2005 report) It does say that there are an "estimated 120 countries working on their cyberattack commands," which is quite different from actually being involved in espionage.

    (Note that I'm not asserting that the US is not conducting electronic espionage. I would hope that we are. Heck, we did electronic espionage long before the internet; why should we stop now?)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jbrodkin (1054964)
      I am the author of the story and I interviewed McAfee researchers who told me the United States is one of the 120.
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:05PM (#21536215) Homepage Journal
    And it's not even very much a secret now.

    Estonia got hammered, probably by Russia. That Russia contracted a stormbot net merely qualifies it as a mercenary attack. Think Bay of Pigs, with a lot more deniability.

    China-based machines have been spotted trying all sorts of hijinks against targets worldwide. Not that China-based machines are alone in this, but they seem to be pretty aggressive.

    When I was younger, I dreamt up interesting warfare. Why use Anthrax when a decent influenza mutant gave you deniability and a very debilitating attack. Use something like Salmonella, and give the population diarreah. A cleanup of fairly massive proportions. As part of the strategy, hit Atlanta with the Salmonella, and Phoenix, and watch the water problems escalate. Influenza would be best used in metropolitan areas, since it would be indistiguishable from a genuine pandemic.

    Cyberwar offers states deniability, subterfuge, and targeted attacks at economic and industrial resources. Wonderful way to cripple your opponent on their own soil, and then run circles around them snarfing up territory, influence, or just plain good press while the losers suffer in every other way.

    Once upon a time, you knew who your enemy was - they were slashing, shooting, or bombing you. then it got harder to figure out where they were. Then it got harder to figure out WHO they were.

    From now on, it will be harder to figure out if you're really under attack, until it's too late.

    I suspect our military will be taking more and more systems off-Net, to completely prevent attacks. Then our adversaries will go after the softest parts of the military systems: Communications - satellites for instance. Logistics - civilian systems the military depends on. Political Systems - including the media, elections.

    We are close to fighting an invisble enemy, with uncertain targets, in a neverending low-grade conflict that saps our resources and diverts our attention from greater threats and opportunities.

    Time to start giving tax breaks to onshore manufacturers again. We cannot continue to import most of our critical technology from our avowed and hostile enemies.

    • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Friday November 30, 2007 @04:26PM (#21537395)
      I agree with pretty much your entire post, except for the last paragraph. If you do not even know who your enemy is and whether anyone is attacking you, the only way to ensure your safety is to tie everyone's well-being to yours. This requires deep economic and social ties between individuals and corporations in the different countries. If cutting into American GDP by releasing various pandemics on its soil backfires because people in your country don't have jobs anymore, you're gonna think twice about doing that.

      Low-grade, untraceable and deniable attacks are a fact of life with electronic communications. We can either make sure that everyone has a stake in the overall health of the world economy, or we can start a wonderful cycle of isolationism, paranoia and "us vs them" attitude. Personally, I know which way I tend.
      • by rickb928 (945187)
        I'm not sure I can agree with your premise that you (us) tie your security to the well-being of others. In a global economy, your friends easily find new friends that are worth more to them than you were, the emphasis on 'were'.

        China, for instance, is a pretty attractive partner to OPEC, certainly at least as attractive as the US is. Japan is less attractive to OPEC in many ways. Suddenly, we are not the best friend of Japan, unless we can help them with their petroleum needs, if OPEC decides to favor Ch
        • I think your point can be summarized as such: there are certain industries so vital to a nation's survival that they should always exist within the national borders. The classic case for this was always the machine tool industry, and as such, has been heavily subsidized by a number of nations. I do think we can add manufacturers of BIOS, networking equipment and other IT-related industries to it.

          I don't think that it is a bad idea to watch for potential worst case scenarios, and to quietly prepare for them.
  • by di0s (582680) <cabbot917.gmail@com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:15PM (#21536399) Homepage Journal
    Don't connect critical infrastructure to public networks?? Seriously, what use could Pentagon users possibly have for the public internet? Granted if they *did* introduce a virus or trojan into Pentagon computers, at least it would be a little harder to get information back out.
    • by bhmit1 (2270)

      Don't connect critical infrastructure to public networks?? Seriously, what use could Pentagon users possibly have for the public internet?

      You mean like the SIPRNet [wikipedia.org]? And just because you're working on military computers doesn't mean you aren't working with COTS software and hardware. There are far too many reasons to list why they'd need the public internet, but with government spending, it's easier to buy two of everything to keep one away from the public.

  • The summary and TFA both claim that the US is carrying out attacks but I can't find any cite for that in TFA. Not that I don't think the US would do this against an enemy or in retaliation but I kind of doubt that it is going to be discussed in a report that the FBI was involved in producing.
  • by keithjr (1091829) on Friday November 30, 2007 @04:21PM (#21537323)
    This might generate an interesting new source of revenue for the Storm botnet. Lease out DDOS horsepower, as it currently being done, to the highest bidding government. Scary.
  • Surely any country that didn't investigate just how vulnerable it and other countries are to attacks from the internet would be pretty foolish. Even if your country is someplace like Iceland or New Zealand that has few enemies and is unlikely to be attacked, you'd probably like to know what Denmark or Fiji could do to your information infrastructure if they chose to .. and how you could retaliate if you chose to.

    Countries -- no names -- who think their national identity requires them to be the world's

  • Me: So, why is my internet out this time?

    Tech Support: Um, let me check. (spins the wheel of random technical failures) Looks like acid rain. Sorry.

    Me: That's what you told me last time! I think you're lying to me!

    Tech Support: Ok, let me check it again. (spins the wheel) Ok, it's actually a government sponsored cyber attack.

    Me: Gah.

  • The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
  • all of those Chinese ISP IP's to show up in my connection attempted logs...

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