The U.S. and UK governments have invested billions over the last few years in spying on their citizens (so called "domestic surveillance" programs).  (Source: 911 Visibility)

Unfortunately, they haven't been putting anywhere near as much effort into safeguarding vital U.S. infrastructure like power, gas, and water.  (Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor)

Three quarters of U.S. advisors on a recent panel thought a catastrophic cyberattack would strike the U.S. within two years, due to the nation's weak defenses.  (Source: WTL Firm)
Hackers from Russia, China, and elsewhere target U.S.; defenses are weak even as domestic spying efforts soar

The U.S. 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 spread. 

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' infrastructure.  Russia 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 releasePDF] 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 infrastructure.

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.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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