Estonia Survives Internet`s First Cyberwar - A Future Cyberwar?
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Some observers have warned that the attack on Estonia may only have been a warm-up for things to come. The Boston Globe noted that there are a number of extremist Islam and pro-terrorist web sites which train users in Internet hacking skills. This is particularly disturbing in light of the United States Government Accounting Office assessing its government’s information systems and critical infrastructures as being in a “high-risk” category. Worse, this isn’t news; the GAO has been complaining about this for the past decade.
It can be hard to fight cyber terrorism in the planning stages; close down one site and it pops up somewhere else. A cooperative effort may be required. Meanwhile, not all threats can be traced to any particular political agenda. Take the Storm worm, for example. Between July 16 and August 1, software security firm Postini recorded an astonishing 415 million spam emails luring users to sites that would infect their PCs and turn them into zombies. That’s about thirty times as many nasty spam messages as you would expect during the same period. Meanwhile, researchers at security firm SecureWorks estimate that the Storm botnet has grown to 1.7 million machines.
How do you prepare against the potential onslaught from a botnet that large? The attack on Estonia taught us that back up systems in case the network goes down may be a step in the right direction. Estonia’s strength in the sense of how wired it is proved to be a weakness in this case. Another way to be prepared is to be flexible about the definition of “infrastructure.” The attackers didn’t go for transportation or energy sites; they went for banking, news, and government sites, with the apparent intention of paralyzing the country. The Estonian government had to make some tough choices about which sites to focus on keeping up and which sites to give a lower priority – low enough to go offline.
Some countries might fare better in the case of a cyber war than others. Forbes recently ran an article about China’s Great Firewall. It’s well known that China’s filters clamp down to keep the country’s citizens from seeing politically sensitive material. That same control can block both inbound and outbound traffic, which means that China is probably better prepared to fend off cyber attacks.
Erecting this kind of firewall would creep out a lot of US citizens, to say the least. But Estonia has shown us that the days of cyber warfare may have already arrived. Even if, as some say, the attackers were no more than a mob, “The use of the Internet to create an online mob has been proven,” says Gadi Evron, a security evangelist for Beyond Security who studied the attack on Estonia. We need to be ready to face this kind of mob – and maybe worse – in the future.
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