Cyber Attacks Or Cyber War?
For some people computer hacking is just a nuisance and an inconvenience but when computer hackers cyber attack institutions, corporations or government departments it's a whole different ball game.
The IMF computers were hacked in June 2011 by a sophisticated cyber attack specifically targeted at the IMF. According to one analysis it's probable that an unknown nation state wanted to install software to create an 'insider digital presence' in the IMF computer networks. This would then be able to steal sensitive information about IMF's economic strategies and other plans. Although the attack was discovered before any serious damage was done, the World Bank still cut its network with the IMF as a precautionary measure.
Other Cyber Attacks
Other well known companies like Lockheed Martin, Sony, Citigroup Inc have been subject to serious cyber attacks that could steal very sensitive information or otherwise damage the functioning of the company. Even Google isn't immune and has had its share of cyber attacks. Companies of course have very sophisticated software to protect their computers, but if one person opens up a seemingly innocent email, as happened to RSA, the whole network can become infected.
The United States Pentagon is considering a strategy where cyber attacks may be considered as an act of war. A White House spokesperson said "the US would respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country". However this leaves a government with the problem of finding out who to attack back, as it is extremely difficult to discover who is doing these cyber attacks in the first place.
Finding The Culprits
Even if the security services are able to trace the malware back to its source computer, which is in itself problematic, finding out who actual wrote it and put it into the internet is a different thing altogether.
According to the US Defense Department over 100 foreign intelligence organizations have attempted to break into American computer networks. And of course there are a number of students, hackers and criminals who try to get into high security computer networks. They may do it just to show they can, for fun, with malicious intent to cause chaos or with real criminal intent to discover sensitive information which they can sell to the highest bidder.
Which Countries Are Targets?
In 2010 the security firm MacAfee surveyed 200 IT executives in 14 different countries and found that 8 out of 10 were targeted by hackers. How successful they were in accessing critical networks is unknown, but the British Government also takes the threat seriously. It is making cyber war plans and has already allocated over $1,000 million to cyber security in Britain. Many other countries believe that there could be a cyber attack to disrupt their energy supplies by 2013.
Iran And Stuxnet
This extremely sophisticated malware worm, Stuxnet, was discovered when a computer in Iran continually rebooted itself. This virus program was designed to target and control software which ran industrial machines. It seems that it was directed at either a Iranian nuclear power plant or more likely to interfere with the running of centrifuges. Centrifuges help to enrich uranium which needed to create a nuclear weapon. It therefore seems likely that a major government created this worm in order to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.
According to CBS News, China has replicated complete factories from blueprints it hacked from American companies, but there is nothing that can be done until there are accepted international laws governing cyberspace. Meanwhile it's like the old Wild West, might rules, and the cyber hackers may be winning.