April 16, 2008

International Cooperation Needed To Prevent Cyberterrorism

At a network Security conference in London this week, security and IT experts from around the world called for greater cooperation to combat threats to global computer networks.

While agreeing on the need for collaborative efforts, the experts disagreed on a precise definition of the term "Ëœcyberterrorism', with a top British security official going so far as describing the term a "Ëœmyth'.

Christian-Marc Liflander, an Estonian defense ministry official, told Reuters his country experienced persistent electronic attacks from both crude hackers and sophisticated "Ëœcyberterrorists' who remotely manipulated botnet computers.

"I would say we have entered an era of cyber terror and perhaps even of cyber war," Liflander said, during a security conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Estonia has said it suspects the Russian government was the source of last year's attacks, which came during a diplomatic row over Tallinn's decision to relocate a war memorial from the Soviet-era.

However, Liflander said the botnet attacks came from computers in 76 different countries, making it difficult to conclusively prove who sponsored them.

"What we have is just a gazillion IP (Internet Protocol) addresses that don't prove anything," he said.  

In a country with one of the highest levels of Internet usage in the world, the attack paralyzed websites and severely disrupted key services such as banking.

But not experts agree that "Ëœcyberterrorism' is the best way to describe these types of attacks.

Stephen Cummings, director of Britain's Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure, told Reuters evidence is lacking that terrorists intend to use cyberattacks to generate the same devastating impact as their physical attacks.

"I think discussion of cyberterrorism distracts our attention from the more pressing terrorist threats, which are still physical," Cummings said, during a presentation that included a slide that said "ËœCyberterrorism is a myth'.

Cummings said continued talks of cyberterrorism might distract from addressing the real issue of malicious computer attacks.

"Who knows, if we all talk about cyberterrorism enough, maybe the terrorists will twig on to its potential in a way we wouldn't want them to."

Despite the semantic differences, officials were in agreement on the need for international collaboration.

"No one country can stand alone in facing cyberattacks and threats. Cyberspace is borderless and the attack usually does not originate from within," Husin Jazri, director of CyberSecurity Malaysia, told Reuters.

Governments and their computer emergency response teams need to set up "pre-emptive arrangements" to cope with potential attacks, he added.

After last year's crisis, Estonia called on the European Union to standardize laws against cyberattacks to ease prosecution of those responsible for the attacks.

Liflander told Reuters that in the next two weeks the country would also launch a national cyberdefense security strategy to better protect key infrastructure and networks by "putting in place minimum standards that all enterprises have to adhere to".

"The attacks were very rapid and there's a tendency to mushroom, so you have to be very agile in your response to them. And your response is only limited if you do it on a national scale -- it has to be international as well," he said, describing the defense against last year's attacks as a game of cat and mouse.


On the Net:

Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure

CyberSecurity Malaysia