Information Warfare: Web Vandals Impress the CIA


January 21, 2008: The CIA has revealed that in several foreign countries, criminals have used Internet hacking to take control of power transmission facilities and used this power (to turn the lights out) to extort money from the power companies. It's interesting that the CIA did not name the countries or the power companies, or provide other details. An urban myth is suspected. The CIA revelations were made in order to speed up U.S. efforts to make American utility companies more resistant to this kind of extortion. Cyber criminals have actually been using similar extortion scams for several years now. The most public examples have been commercial web operations that were threatened with being shut down, or damaged by a penetration of the web site defenses. Many companies have increased their Internet defenses, but the criminals keep coming up with new forms of attack. The criminals operate from countries where the local police are unable, or unwilling, to help crack down on such crimes. The extorted money is transmitted to accounts in such countries, and then on to several more accounts, making it very difficult to track down.

Cyber War experts get nervous about this sort of thing because one could fight a war using the same weapons. Shutting down power plants, and other utilities, as well as other commercial sites, has real military value. This is what bombing campaigns have done for over seventy years, and you can, in theory, do it a lot faster via network connections. To prevent that, defenses must be built. At the moment, no one is really sure what effective defenses are. Meanwhile, the bad guys find out every day, which offensive weapons work.


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