Last week, the news of a cyber attack by Russia against Georgia made this type of warfare become a chilling reality. According to an article in the LA Times, it also revealed how ill-prepared most of the world is to deal with this new threat.
Most of the experts now agree that cyber attacks started well before lead started flying and were not very sophisticated by current standards. Most of the attacks were run of the mill DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) type events designed to deface and shut down government sites.
One of the problems is that no one can actually pin the attacks to the Russians. As usual, botnets of zombie computers were used to facilitate the assault on the sites in question. Since these zombie computers are taken over by malicious software — normally after an unsuspecting user clicks on a link in a spam e-mail — the computers used in the attack probably resided in locations all over the world. Botnets are also used to send out the spam e-mails with the malicious links that turn systems into what are known as zombie computers, which add to the power of the botnet.
Researchers at Shadowserver, a volunteer group monitoring cyber attacks, have traced the attacks against Georgia as starting in July and being based out of the United States, according to an article in the New York Times. The Times article suggested that there might be ties in this attack to Russian organized cyber criminals.
It should be noted that the words Russia and cyber crime bring up pages of results on most search engines. Russian organized crime is also known to have a global reach so it is no surprise that some of the current DDOS attacks were traced to a server in the United States. Simply stated, these attacks can be made to appear as if they are coming from just about anywhere.
While this is one the first times cyber warfare has actually occurred, it’s starting to become a topic of concern in government circles. As a matter of fact, in April it was a hot topic at the NATO summit and an EU conference. China is also known to be actively seeking a cyber warfare capability and gets accused of hacking into other government’s websites all the time.
Last year, Estonia suffered cyber attacks, which were allegedly facilitated by Russian Hackers, also. In an interesting development, Network World reported that they are sending cyber defense advisors to assist the Georgians.
Wikipedia has an interesting article (Wiki) on cyber warfare. It cites that McAfee stated in their 2007 annual report that approximately 120 countries have been developing cyber warfare capabilities designed to disrupt financial markets, government computer systems and utilities. The article also lists several examples of attacks, which many suspect were facilitated by the Russians or the Chinese, that have recently occurred.
The McAfee report surmised that cyber attack capabilities are becoming a global issue as well as a threat to national security. Current events seem to be making that prediction turn into reality.