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article imageOp-Ed: Foreign cyber attack risk rising as House, Google sound warnings

By Paul Wallis     Oct 8, 2012 in Internet
Sydney - The House Intelligence Committee referred to cyber-attacks from “unusual sources” just before Chinese communications firms were declared a security risk. Now Google is warning Gmail users of possibly being targeted by state-sponsored attackers.
While it’s not exactly unusual for Washington media to beat the paranoia drum, particularly in an election year, they’re not crying wolf. Cyber-attacks against US government agencies and major corporations have been at plague proportions for some time. The Google angle is new, and not likely to be very welcome among users.
So here’s the basic story-
Stars and Stripes:
Rogers (House committee chair, R) said senators recently saw a briefing about “what appears to be a new level of threat that would target networks here from an unusual – I have to be careful here – an unusual source that has some very real consequences if we are not able to deal with it.”
Rogers joked he couldn’t be more specific about the source of the threat because he doesn’t look good in orange prison garb. But he seemed to indicate it was from a nation not previously identified as a serious threat.
The nation is “believed”, whatever that means, to be in the Middle East. No, not necessarily Iran, but as usual suspects go, it’d be first.
The Telegraph the next day:
The House Intelligence Committee warned in a report that American companies should avoid doing business with Huawei Technologies Ltd. and ZTE Corp and that US regulators should block mergers and acquisitions in the country.
"China has the means, opportunity, and motive to use telecommunications companies for malicious purposes," the report says.
Does shutting one’s mouth when it’s in your interest to do so have yet to become a prerequisite for sitting on House committees? What’s wrong with the old “say nothing and be as obstructive as possible” option?
TechCrunch refers to Google's new warning to Gmail users:
…To be perfectly clear, this message doesn’t mean that a successful attack was made on your account. It simply means that you likely have messages in your inbox containing malicious links or attachments, that are intended to eventually capture your password and/or information.
That’s where the uploaded image comes from.
Funny, this isn’t. Individual email accounts vs. state-sponsored cyber-attacks isn’t exactly fair. Nor is a real attack likely to be funny. Some state-created Trojans are very nasty things indeed. If you take nothing else seriously this lifetime, take this one to heart.
This could also be a way into business accounts. It’s not very hard to imagine a compromised employee’s personal email account providing entry into a business network or agency network.
The ongoing cyber war
The cyber war has now been going on for a long time. Mainly it’s been the bad guys banging their clubs against the firewalls until now, with some very obvious silences about any successes they may have had.
The new generation technologies, however, Wi-Fi and much better software have made the new wave a lot more dangerous. The US is naturally the main target and the most likely source of valuable (meaning salable or usable) information.
The US, understandably, hasn’t said what it’s doing about these attacks. Retaliation may have been made in a couple of cases over the last 5 years, but obviously any information about that’s not likely to be coming out in a press release any time soon.
The irony is that the US and other nations do have significant capabilities if they ever decided to turn the tables. It would be quite easy to crash every computer in a targeted country, as is believed to have happened a few years back to one of the Baltic states.
The trouble is that all this natural secrecy, however necessary, doesn’t exactly make people feel much better when they’ve just been told their personal email account is under attack by another country.
There is a convincing rationale for major counterstrikes against serial offenders. These guys are big in theory, able to use botnets with millions of computers, but computers can only do so much. There are types of communications capabilities they can’t match.
Counterstrike options
It is theoretically quite possible to totally obliterate the entire communications network of a country, let alone a botnet. Nor are attacks with tens of thousands (or preferably millions) of new viruses, worms and Trojans exactly hard to achieve. The amount of damage which could be done could annihilate financial systems, infrastructure and anything else that looks nice.
Let’s clarify one point here- Whatever the failings of the US political system and the intransigence of its agencies in adopting any sort of working relationship with democracy, at least one of the likely sources of routine large scale attacks has been called a “criminal nation”, and that description has yet to be disproved. Some of the old Eastern bloc countries, notably Rumania, are notorious for their constant cybercrime operations. Wiping these scum off the face of the net would be no loss. It’d make using your home computer a lot safer.
Another point for cyber activists- As a rule, the nations involved in these “national” attacks are also major long term human rights abusers. It’d be well worth throwing a few billion spanners into the works of these vermin. You can’t fund arms deals if your money’s sprayed all over the planet one cent at a time, for example. Nor can oppressive governments be quite so oppressive if their main ops are rewritten to do nothing but play Sudoku. (Just a thought.)
If you own a computer or a phone, you may find yourself on the front line of this war. Don’t get casual and avoid risks when you see them.
Let’s get this straight- The internet belongs to humanity. Free communications are a human right. Humanity always hits back, sooner or later. Keep the peace or else. Nobody has to put up with this crap, whether it's from cybercriminals or criminals running countries.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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