Time to wake up to cyber threat: experts

Jun 18, 2010
Acting senior director for Cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security Councils of the US Melissa Hathaway, speaks during the four-day international conference tackling the issue of cyber conflicts in Tallinn on June 17. "Cybercrime and cyberespionage are topics that can't be ignored," Hathaway said.

NATO governments and the public must wake up to the threat of cyberattacks, which could paralyse a nation far more easily than conventional warfare, experts warned Friday.

" and cyberespionage are topics that can't be ignored," said Melissa Hathaway, a former US cyber tsar, at a conference in Estonia organised by the trans-Atlantic alliance's IT defence unit.

"Key infrastructure, including power stations, have become vulnerable due to their dependence on Internet connections," Hathaway said.

"There is no national in the modern world without economic security, and both companies and private citizens should also realise the depth of the problem," she added.

Charlie Miller -- a security expert who launches test assaults on IT systems -- underlined that cyberwar is far easier than a conventional attack.

"It would take two years and cost less than 50 million dollars a year to prepare a cyberattack that could paralyse the United States," Miller warned.

Such an attack could involve fewer than 600 hackers, he added.

Estonia is home to a unit known in NATO jargon as the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.

Bitter experience taught Estonia -- one of the world's most wired nations and a NATO member since 2004 -- all about cyberattacks.

The Baltic state of 1.3 million people suffered an assault in 2007 that paralysed key business and services for days.

It came as Estonian authorities shifted a Soviet-era war memorial from central Tallinn to a cemetery site.

The monument, erected when Moscow took over after World War II, became a flashpoint following independence in 1991 for rallies by Estonia's ethnic-Russian minority.

Estonia blamed Moscow for stoking riots in Tallinn as the memorial was moved, and said the cyberattacks were traced to Russian official servers.

Russia, however, denied involvement.

Despite Estonia's experience, people elsewhere have not woken up, said British defence ministry expert Gloria Craig.

"It's still hard to convince the public that a cyberattack is an attack, when people don't see a smoking gun," Craig said.

"As of now NATO is not prepared for a global ," she added.

US specialist Bruce Schneier, however, said the current threat should not be overplayed.

"Building tanks does not mean you fear you could be overrun by a military force right now. It pays to build tanks and it pays to prepare for cyberwar, but I don't believe that's a fear we should worry about right now," Schneier said.

"It's very easy to invent scare scenarios but this does not mean we should actually be scared by them," he said.

Schneier said, however, that it time to prepare now so that sci-fi style scenarios never become reality.

Explore further: Al-Jazeera's AJ+ eyes young viewers on 'social stream'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NATO's cyber-brains gaze at the future of war

Apr 24, 2010

Behind the walls of a high-security lab, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's top cyber-minds are trying to predict the evolution of conflict in an Internet-dependent world.

Is there really a cyberwar? Term might be misused

May 05, 2010

(AP) -- Is there really a "cyberwar" going on? Some officials and computer security companies say yes, arguing that armies of hackers are stealing online secrets and using the Internet to attack infrastructure such as power ...

Recommended for you

Protecting infrastructure with smarter CPS

36 minutes ago

Security of IT networks is continually being improved to protect against malicious hackers. Yet when IT networks interface with infrastructures such as water and electric systems to provide monitoring and control capabilities, ...

Apple helps iTunes users delete free U2 album

13 hours ago

Apple on Monday began helping people boot U2 off their iTunes accounts after a cacophony of complaints about not wanting the automatically downloaded free album by the Irish rock band.

Habitual Facebook users: Suckers for social media scams?

19 hours ago

A new study finds that habitual use of Facebook makes individuals susceptible to social media phishing attacks by criminals, likely because they automatically respond to requests without considering how they are connected ...

YouTube to go offline in India on Android phones

20 hours ago

YouTube users in India will soon be able to save videos from the Google-owned service, making it possible to watch them offline, and the feature will eventually be available globally, the company said Monday.

Facebook vs. loneliness

23 hours ago

Are people becoming lonelier even as they feel more connected online? Hayeon Song, an assistant professor of communication at UWM, explored this topic in recent research.

User comments : 0