News

Industrial Cyber Attacks, a Costly Spy Game

A cyber warfare expert works on his laptop computer in Charlotte, North Carolina, December 1, 2011.
A cyber warfare expert works on his laptop computer in Charlotte, North Carolina, December 1, 2011.

Cyber espionage has cost U.S.-owned businesses about $14 billion in reported economic losses since last October, according to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But private security experts said this is a fraction of a huge problem that will take a cultural shift to put corporate America ahead of today’s high-tech spies.

Martin Libicki, a Washington-based senior management scientist with RAND, a non-profit research and analysis institution, said nobody knows how big the problem is. “It takes a lot more worth than we’ve been willing to give it to try to estimate the size of the problem.”

“I don’t have an even good theoretical estimate, much less a practical estimate,” he added.

Companies are often too embarrassed to announce a security breach because people don’t always notice it when it first happens. “It takes an average of a year and a half before you realize that something is wrong,” said Libicki.

    "In the US ... most companies are careful about their source code, but they send people into the field with sales leads and customer lists stored on mobile devices or unencrypted laptops."

    Damien Miller, CEO of Comet Way

Canada’s telecommunications company, Nortel, for example, told the Wall Street Journal in February that it lost data for nearly a decade before realizing it was being spied on.

Randall Coleman, FBI Section Chief at the agency’s Counterintelligence department in Washington said hacking by both organized groups and state-backed actors has taken off in recent years. “It is certainly the wave of the future,” he said.

“There are state-sponsored corporations throughout the world that spy on the United States and attempt to steal our technology,” Coleman added.

One of the most frequently accused is China. But the Chinese government has repeatedly denied involvement in cyber espionage, saying it also suffers from the problem.

But Jody Westby, CEO of Global Cyber Risk, a consulting company said it is hard to know if the perpetrator is “the kid down the street, a teenager seeking gratification, a terrorist, a hacker, a nation-state, an insider - you don’t know.” She said it all starts from the premise that this was an unauthorized illegal activity.

The biggest threat is not coming from nations, but from other corporations, said cyber security expert Damien Miller, CEO of Comet Way, a cyber security company.

A case in point is the legal action American Superconductor Corporation (AMSC), a global energy solutions provider, has brought against China’s Sinovel Wind Group Company. While AMSC has declined interview requests, its website stated that the company is seeking more than $1.2 billion in damages stemming from “contractual breaches and property theft.”

Roel Schouwenberg, Senior Researcher with IT security company Kaspersky said cyber criminals typically go after companies with the weakest defenses. But with the kinds of targeted attacks taking place today, he said “everybody needs to have very strong security. It’s no longer about being better than the weakest one.”

The Stuxnet and Duqu era

A few years ago, industrial spies mostly targeted Fortune 100 companies, but now all sorts of companies all over the world are being affected. “That’s definitely worrisome,” said Schouwenberg, because “for the longest time we’ve been working under the impression that as long as you are more secure than your competitors, you are fine.”

Photo taken August 23, 2010 shows Iranian technicians working at Bushehr nuclear power plant, outside the southern city of Bushehr. Iran's nuclear chief said a malicious computer worm known as Stuxnet has not harmed the country's atomic program and accuse
Photo taken August 23, 2010 shows Iranian technicians working at Bushehr nuclear power plant, outside the southern city of Bushehr. Iran's nuclear chief said a malicious computer worm known as Stuxnet has not harmed the country's atomic program and accuse

But the increasing sophistication of recent malicious software or malware has raised the threat level. Schouwenberg specifically cited Duqu, an intelligence tool that looks for data that could be useful for attacking industrial control systems, and its 2010 predecessor, Stuxnet, a ground-breaking cyber-weapon designed to sabotage machinery in an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility.

While security experts believe Duqu and Stuxnet were probably created by the same developers, Schouwenberg said this top-tier malware is now functioning “as a source of inspiration for regular cyber criminals.”

Today’s threats sneak in and lie undetected for months before making a move, said Westby. They can circumvent anti-virus software - even change it to remain undetected - and load other software on the computer. “You can get a malware kernel in there that’s then starting to bring in keystroke loggers [and] Trojans, these kinds of other malware that they can use to then steal data.”

She added that “companies are just not prepared to deal with this level of sophistication.”

She said businesses have a “false sense of security” that firewalls and anti-virus programs provide enough protection. “They need to re-evaluate how they are approaching threats. And it’s not just going to be a technological solution,” she said.

How to protect corporate data

Some of the immediate steps companies can take, Westby said, include re-evaluating whether or not they have the right personnel and adequate budgets, and whether roles and responsibilities are aligned so that their various entities communicate effectively when anomalies occur.

“All you can do is defend well and have good mitigation and practices in place,” said Schouwenberg. “So, that means different layers of security, and so on, where you try to stop these guys from ever getting in. Or, be very aware if somebody does manage to get in that you catch them very, very quickly and minimize the damage,” he said.

“The first question you have to ask yourself,” said Libicki, “is when it comes to things like protecting your network is what do you have that’s worth protecting?”

Companies also could be overestimating the need to share information via live connections, he said. And Miller agreed, saying U.S. businesses are not good at identifying at-risk assets. They guard their source code, he said, but then send into the field sales leads and customer lists stored on mobile devices or unencrypted laptops that hackers can easily break into.

Even in critical U.S. infrastructure, Schouwenberg said some networks that should not be connected to the Internet, in fact, are. “And this is because people are not following proper procedure,” he said. “So, access controls - that’s really what it boils down to - are definitely something which is very important.”

“There has to be due diligence in what is out there, in what a company decides to put out there,” said Coleman. “And then a company really has to make sure that there’s auditing and monitoring capabilities to ensure that their information is protected.”

As a Carnegie-Mellon Cylab fellow, Westby conducts annual surveys on how boards and senior executives govern and practice security. She said surveys she has done since 2008 show “very little change” in how boards and senior executives look at these threats.

Wanted: new thinking, fewer mandates

But a cultural shift is slowly taking place, said Miller, with some companies issuing “blank” laptops and mobile phones to employees traveling to high-risk areas. He said other businesses are starting to adopt federal standards of authentication and data security.

Schouwenberg said what is needed is legislation that incentivizes better security, similar to Massachusetts‘ aggressive Data Privacy Law, which fines companies that fail to follow best practices.

A September 21, 2011 photo shows Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman presiding over a hearing on Capitol Hill amid tiff corporate opposition to a Senate proposal seeking to bolster the government's ability to r
A September 21, 2011 photo shows Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman presiding over a hearing on Capitol Hill amid tiff corporate opposition to a Senate proposal seeking to bolster the government's ability to r

A proposed cyber espionage bill being debated by the U.S. senate lets the U.S. Department of Homeland Security set cyber security standards for private companies.

But Westby questioned whether Congress is on the right track with this legislation, saying cyber security will never get better unless cyber crime is addressed. “Right now, we can’t catch the bad guys,” she said.

“When you have laws around the world that don’t even consider certain acts of cyber crime, when they don’t have anyone that’s skilled to help with an investigation, when there aren’t even 24/7 points of contact to call, then it’s difficult,” Westby said. “And it’s difficult not just in developing countries. It’s difficult here.”

Westby said this requires the United States to exert more leadership globally to enhance cooperation and ensure that countries have harmonized laws and trained law enforcement personnel.

“The threats are going to remain there,” she said, adding that requiring companies to comply with more federal mandates is not the answer because it takes resources away from “deploying the best mousetrap or taking the best approach to security.”

And in this high-tech cat-and-mouse game, U.S. companies cannot allow technology to leave them behind, cautioned the FBI's Coleman.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs