recently was accused
of unleashing the Stuxnet worm, a virus capable of affecting a variety of
industrial systems. The worm sought to make its way through systems at
Iran's Bushehr or Natanz nuclear facilities -- and apparently it succeeded,
doing major damage to these systems, once it infected them.
In the process, the worm infected approximately 40 percent of utilities'
computers worldwide. Some speculate the worm's authors underestimate the
number of industrials systems it would infect or how far outside Iran it would
U.S. cybersecurity expert Stewart Baker, a former US national security
advisor to President George W Bush, describes in an interview with BBC
News, "It probably didn't result in any obvious interference with
the systems, because it wasn't designed to do that. But the fact that it spread
so widely and could have done so if it had been differently designed is very,
very troubling if you are worried about cyber attacks by hostile nations or
extortion attempts by well organized criminal gangs."
Cybersecurity experts are concerned about a growing
number of attacks on critical infrastructure. And the U.S. is
not alone in being suspected of conducting attacks on other nations'
and China are both suspected of targeting critical foreign
infrastructure, including U.S. utilities, with cyber-attacks.
In a 2009 survey by
security firm McAffee (a
division of Intel Corp. (INTC)) only half of utilities
reported their networks were being targeted by hackers. By last year [press
that number rose to 8 out of 10. The survey polled 200 IT executives
working for utility companies in 14 countries.
The vast majority of attacks affected the websites of utilities. Most did
not succeed in penetrating actual critical systems, as the Stuxnet worm did.
Still the attacks give cause for concern.
Mr. Baker says that an upcoming distributed
denial of service attack (DDoS) has a very real possibility of causing
much more serious damage in the near future. He comments, "We asked
what the likelihood was of a major attack that causes significant outage. That
is one that causes severe loss of services for at least 24 hours, loss of life
or personal injury or failure of a company. Three quarters thought it would
happen within the next two years."
McAffee's 2010 survey also asked customers how much support they received from
their government. It found that the Japanese government ranked highest in
the support it provided, followed by China and the United Arab Emirates.
The United States score very low and its close ally Britain scored even
worse, receiving the very lowest mark.
In short, the U.S. and British governments aren't doing much to protect their
nations' businesses even in the face of serious attacks on critical
Both nations have promised to reevaluate their cybersecurity efforts in
statements. However, those promises might be familiar. In recent
years both the U.S. and Britain have released constant
promises that they will "try harder" when it comes to
cybersecurity. While both nations dramatically expanded their domestic
surveillance programs, their efforts to fight foreign attacks have been
weak at best.