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As the damage done by radical, criminal and intellectually motivated hackers continues to rise, about six Billions Dollars of economic value was destroyed worldwide by overt and covert digital attacks including viruses and worms in October alone. As a result, the mi2g Intelligence Unit predicts there will be a growing requirement for Governments to intervene and to mobilise counter-attack-forces that protect economic targets and critical national infrastructure constituents on a 24/7 basis.
In a study to be released later this month, mi2g will reveal a new trend developing with far more damaging economic consequences. The near doubling of hacking incidents every two months in late 2002 will be shown to have shifted away from targeting government departments and agencies towards focusing principally on Small to Medium size Enterprises (SMEs) and large corporations where opportunity allows.
The SMEs are incapable of sheltering themselves or having the budget and expertise to be able to ward off sustained digital mass attacks, which have now become a daily occurrence with widely available, automated and easy-to-use sophisticated digital attack tools. The mounting collective losses to businesses might impact on governments’ revenue streams through reduced tax collection, so in the future, it will be prudent to look after the SME growth engines and not just large businesses, who on the whole have the budgets and manpower resources to look after themselves.
In the not too distant future, there is a likelihood that command and control attacks, which blend cyber terrorism with physical terrorism, simultaneously seek to disrupt transport or telecommunication hubs; financial services or commerce; water or energy distribution; could also be manifest as hackers organise themselves more rigorously along the lines of criminally financed terrorist syndicates with specific ideological agendas and become more adept at social engineering to procure insider help locally.
Historically, politicians in civilised Western democracies have challenged their defence forces to provide adequate defence capability within limited resources. The focus has been on the four physical dimensions - land, sea, air and outer space - and not on the new 5th Dimension, which is cyberspace. There is no real digital defence capability deployed so far - other than occasional simulations and exercises which are to uncover gaps in the national critical infrastructure’s digital defences. The redressal lies primarily in developing counter-attack-forces, which would begin to arrest the imbalance of power between ill-motivated hackers on the one hand and little-prepared businesses on the other.
It is unrealistic to expect that any defence department can provide 'counter-attack-forces' against digital attacks for an entire nation’s economic targets immediately and, in any case, the expertise needed is relatively fast moving and cannot be 'trained' into would be combatants in a short period of time.
Most complex attacks take place through insider knowledge and assistance. Just one motivated individual cannot usually perpetrate complex cross-boundary physical or digital terrorism. Disgruntled employees in sensitive places are suborned, coerced or indeed volunteer their services to support a cause. This is seen in financial services when complex fraud or deeply damaging hack attacks take place. It is also seen in large multi-nationals, in the breach of government services security and even in the planning of the 11th September co-ordinated attacks. More attention needs to be given to the value of human intelligence collected by local agencies, where the information is collected in situ at the grass roots level.
In the future, when seeking to protect the critical infrastructure constituents and business digital systems at a national level, the economically prudent way forward would be to combine knowledge management, analysis and counter-attack tools with on-the-ground human intelligence sources. Surveillance and reconnaissance dashboards of digital systems would need to be managed by experienced counter-attack-forces on a 24/7 basis.
mi2g believes that this war on digital terrorism can be won decisively and effectively. As in all wars, our collective national defences must excel enemy aggression. We will therefore need to understand that:
1. Defence has always been about securing trade routes and markets. Given that several Trillion Dollars of trade is routed digitally, counter-attack-forces with electronic weapons that can disable attacking systems from various parts of the world will ultimately need to be deployed with Governments’ backing as part of their 5th dimension defence shield. Counter-attack-forces will save businesses a lot of lost time and money in dealing with rogue, politically motivated, electronic attacks from radical and criminal groups scattered across the world and within the nation.
2. Laws will have to be passed throughout the civilised world that will declare cyber attacks that spark fear and cause damage to life and assets as equivalent to physical-world terrorism at an international level. The perpetrators of such attacks will have to be dealt with as terrorists.
a. This process has already begun with the US Senate and House of Representatives passing the “Uniting and Strengthening America Act by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001'' in October last year and the “Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA) of 2001” in July this year. The CSEA seeks life imprisonment for anyone putting lives at risk by electronic means. In the UK, under the Terrorism Act 2000, enacted into law in February 2001, people who endanger lives through the manipulation of public computer systems are to be considered under the anti-terrorism law as would any other terrorist.
b. All business operations could also be required, by law, to possess a sufficiently layered and tranched security architecture so that even if one layer or tranche of defence were to be breached the entire set of valuable databases or command and control capabilities would not be immediately compromised.
3. Mobilisation of resources including new investment will become necessary on interoperable distributed knowledge management and analysis systems, which allow data to be shared easily from and between different sources and agencies collecting intelligence. Also, investment in more local human intelligence across the globe will be essential. The expertise of the very few available people who are proficient in the technologies of the 5th dimension would need to be utilised to train the counter-attack-forces through the establishment of a national centre of excellence for digital defence. Nothing significant can be achieved without this cohesive sharing capability being made available to the future counter-attack-forces, who would be able to ensure reliability, availability, maintainability and scalability of SME business systems in the event of hacker attacks.
“After four successive record breaking months in the number of overt digital attacks this year, mi2g believes that we have entered an era of sustained attacks from radicals, criminals and intellectual power zealots, who will be difficult to contain and to deal with at the consumer and small to medium size corporate level in the 21st Century. The roll out of ‘always on’ full broadband and wireless connectivity tilts the balance against the innocent citizens and corporations. In the years to come, government intervention to deal with 5th dimension warfare could become imperative. It is no longer a question of if but when,” said DK Matai, Chairman and CEO, mi2g.
“It is unlikely that governments will choose to remain oblivious to the challenge of daily digital attacks on their citizens and their livelihoods given the Billions of Dollars of damage being caused to digital commerce, productivity, intellectual property and employed capital. Organized crime syndicates embarking on identity theft, elaborate scams and financial fraud have now become rampant. As knowledge management based authentication systems proliferate both at airports and digital commerce sites, digital identity theft levers are going to be exercised by future criminals.”