Cyber war raging as countries test strategies

2014-06-05 10:01 - Duncan Alfreds
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Cyber attacks have delayed progress on Iran's nuclear programme. (National Nuclear Safety Administration, AP)

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Cape Town - A cyber war could well and truly be raging as countries look to gain the upper hand by infiltrating computer networks, a security company has said.

The level of sophistication in cyber attacks has reached professional standards.

"Over the last couple of years we have seen a very high degree of professionalism in operational procedures of the groups behind cyber attack operations," Ghareeb Saad, senior security researcher with the Global Research & Analysis Team, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Kaspersky Lab told News24.

He added that this pointed to nation state involvement.

"This level of operational security is not normal for cybercriminal groups - it makes us believe these could be state sponsored campaigns. However, establishing the source of an attack in the virtual world is far from straightforward, and much more difficult than analysing the code."

Infrastructure attack

Cyber criminals have shown that country infrastructure can be compromised with a cyber attack.

Kaspersky uncovered a number of malicious software, including Stuxnet which targeted Iran's nuclear programme as well as its follow-up malware.

Stuxnet was particularly sophisticated in that the malware was written to only deploy when particular conditions in an infected PC were met and it could also delete itself from a system once the attack period was over.

Some security researchers estimate that Stuxnet alone put Iran's nuclear programme back a number of years. This has implications for countries where the drive to create internet-connected infrastructure could see them more exposed to security threats.


Cyber attacks have delayed progress on Iran's nuclear programme. (National Nuclear Safety Administration, AP)

For example, a hacker could potentially turn off power systems or control water systems in a cyber attack on a nation state.

The US has been vocal about Chinese hacking of corporate computer systems and Kaspersky said that this had some correspondence with their research.

Offensive manoeuvres

"Today, one can comment that the 'Chinese footprint' is one of the most visible among organisers of targeted attacks. Over the last several years we've uncovered a number of cyber operations (eg, NetTraveler, Winnti and Icefog), which ostensibly had some connection with Chinese-speaking hacker groups," said Saad.

However, reports have also emerged of US offensive manoeuvres in cyberspace.

German publication Der Spiegel and the New York Times reported in March that the US National Security Agency had carried out espionage on Chinese company Huawei, prompting an angry response from Beijing.


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