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Study asks: Are cyber security hacks more common - or were they under-reported?

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The recent onslaught on cyber security attacks on high-profile targets like Sony Corp. and utilities has garnered a significant amount of attention. According to a published report, hackers are increasing their cyber security attacks and exploiting networks that are ill-prepared for such activity - but it's nothing new in the world of cyber crime.

Freakonomics, which was formerly a book and is now an investigative journalist agency for NPR, reports that cyber security experts are unsurprised by the spate of reports recently pertaining to hackers infiltrating the computer networks of organizations like the Central Intelligence Agency and Lockheed Martin, among many others.

"It's not that things are getting worse; it’s that things were always this bad. To a lot of security professionals, the value of some of these groups is to graphically illustrate what we’ve been saying for years: organizations need to beef up their security against a wide variety of threats," internationally renowned security technologist Bruce Schneier said.

Such is the opinion of many industry experts as they point toward data that indicates hackers have been infiltrating networks for years - often without ever being detected. Still, they contend that hackers are now operating for foreign governments as data that is placed online is exceedingly valuable.

For example, the ongoing development of the smart grid in the U.S. has not been met with a similar emphasis on critical infrastructure protection (CIP) protocols, experts charge. Foreign governments have an incentive to capture data on U.S. residents and on the power supply network and now they are able to accomplish that feat - and often easily - because many utilities are failing to proactively secure their networks.

"A crucial development took place" over the past few years, Imperva senior web security researcher Tal Be'ery affirmed. "Companies began digitizing data. This data had tons of value on the black market, governments included. Consequently, the hacker focus shifted from denying service to stealing data. They’ve built a whole industry around it."

The Obama Administration has advocated for more stringent smart grid security measures and its insistence seems to be working as groups tasked with overseeing the power supply network are overhauling their cyber security strategies.

Still, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have disagreed over how to best protect the efficacy of the grid, leading some industry experts to urge utilities and other critical businesses to improve their cyber security measures.

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