Thursday, May 07, 2015

Russia's Greatest Weapon May Be Its Hackers

By Owen Matthews / May 7, 2015, Newsweek

In hacker jargon, it’s called a “cyber-to-physical effect.” It’s when a hacker reaches out from the virtual world into the real one—often with catastrophic consequences. The Americans and Israelis pioneered the technique back in 2009 when the Stuxnet program infiltrated Iranian computer systems and wrecked thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges. But now other players—especially the Russians and Chinese—are getting into the game of remotely using computer networks to destroy infrastructure and threaten human lives. Last year, according to a report by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security, a blast furnace melted down in an unnamed industrial city in Germany after a digital attack on its control systems, causing “massive damage.”

It nearly happened in the United States too, when unknown hackers succeeded in penetrating U.S. electrical, water and fuel distribution systems early in 2014. While old-fashioned, relatively low-tech data hacks make headlines—for instance, high-profile break-ins over the last 12 months to the email systems and databases of the White House, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and Sony Pictures Inc.—what has security officials seriously worried is the new and dangerous world of cyber-to-physical infrastructure attacks.

“This is not theoretical,” National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee recently. Hacking attacks on the U.S. and its allies are “costing us hundreds of billions of dollars,” Rogers warned, and will result in “truly significant, almost catastrophic failures if we don’t take action.”

(More here.)

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