Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cyber spying a threat, and everyone is in on it

Growing threat of cyber espionage

The computers of Tibetan exiles and the U.S. electrical grid were recently breached by hackers, highlighting the growing threat of cyber espionage. The White House is currently finishing a 60-day review of how the federal government can better use technology to protect electronic information such as the U.S.'s electrical grid, the stock market, tax data, airline flight systems, and even nuclear weapon launch codes.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that in 2008 there were 5,499 known breaches of U.S. government computers by malicious software, a big jump from the 3,928 known breaches in 2007 and 2,172 in 2006. A former U.S. government official says the hackers who compromised the electrical grid could have left behind computer programs that will allow them to disrupt service.

He also says the sophistication of the attack indicates that it was state-sponsored and the government does not know the extent of the attack because federal officials cannot monitor the entire grid. "We expect that the attacks we've seen are only the tip of the iceberg," say the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details. "We follow the attacks to their source, and many come from China."

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