Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is the United States Cyber-Safe? Experts Respond to the Recent Cyber Terrorist Attacks

U.S. officials have been short on public explanations and reassurances following the recent cyber attacks affecting many U.S. and South Korean security and financial institutions but emergency notices were sent to federal agencies and departments alerting them of the situation and advising precautions with the wake of the cyber terrorists attacks that are suspected to have originated in North Korea.

Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department, said the agency's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team issued a notice to federal departments and other partner organizations about the problems and "advised them of steps to take to help mitigate against such attacks."

Just last year, following similar cyber attacks that were linked to China, security experts warned that America was more vulnerable to a cyber-attack than other forms of conventional threats.

In May, President Obama announced the establishment of an inter-agency cyber-security office and the Pentagon added a military Cyber Command to supplement the civilian effort.

Despite the warnings and these cyber-safety steps, this past week key U.S. agency web sites, including Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department sites, were affected by the cyber terrorist attacks in the U.S. and many South Korean institution web sites, including bank web sites were strangled as well.

While the U.S. government hasn't been very vocal, many security experts have helped to explain the outcome of the cyber terrorist attacks and gives the rest of us a realistic picture of just how significant these cyber attacks were.

- A spokesperson for Keynote Systems, a California-based mobile and website monitoring company, describe the outcome of the cyber attacks as "significant outage."

- The chief technology officer for SANS Internet Storm Center described the cyber attacks as a "pretty massive attack," although "nothing really terrible sophisticated. If just floods the websites," and "prevents the websites from responding."

- Ben Rushlo, director of internet technologies at the firm, described the transportation departments web site problems as "very strange." Rushlo added, "Having something 100% down for a 24-hour-plus period is a pretty significant event."

Questions Linger Over North Korean Involvement

Cyber experts seem to agree that the cyber attacks originated from a place with in North Korea but they have differing opinions on what this means. Is this a communist nation attack via a technology battlefield or was this simply an attack orchestrated by hackers using zombie computers from North Korea?

- Philip Reitinger, deputy under secretary at the Homeland Security Department, said in an interview with the Associated Press that, "the far-reaching attacks demonstrate the importance of cyber security as a critical national security issue." The fact that a series of computers were involved in an attack, Reitinger said, "doesn't say anything about the ultimate source of the attack." "What it says is that those computers were as much a target of the attack as the eventual Web sites that are targets," said Reitinger, who heads DHS cyber security operations. "They're just zombies that are being used by some unseen third party to launch attacks against government and non-government Web sites."

- Rod Beckstrom, former head of the U.S. cyber-security center says, "If Pyongyang is behind the attacks, it probably establishes a new pattern of behavior. If this is them, they are now in the club. And they're probably only going to get better."

Jack Thomas Tomarchio, head of Nicor Cyber Security is concerned about North Koreas involvement because "they play by their own set of rules, so it is more difficult to calibrate how they're going to respond." Tomarchio also says that, "The attacks overall show that the federal government is still very vulnerable in terms of its cyber security and that agencies have miles to go to plug the holes.."

This was only a DOS, or denial of service attack, but attacks like this one make us more fearful of attacks such as an attack on the FAA tracking of airlines or the New York Stock Exchange monitoring of stock prices. Sure, this seems a movie of the week theme that couldn't really happen, but after 9-11 and a series of cyber terrorists attacks, Americans are learning to never say never.

"This is not Pearl Harbor. I'm not trying to alarm the country," Tomarchio adds, "But we do have a serious intrusion problem."

Lisa Carey is a contributing author for Identity Theft Secrets: prevention and protection. You can get tips on Identity theft protection, software, and monitoring your credit as well as learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog -

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