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Cyber-attack is any type of offensive maneuver employed by individuals or whole organizations that targets computer information systems, infrastructures, computer networks, and/or personal computer devices by various means of malicious acts usually originating from an anonymous source that either steals, alters, or destroys a specified target by hacking into a susceptible system. These can be labelled as either a Cyber campaign, cyberwarfare or cyberterrorism in different context. Cyber-attacks can range from installing spyware on a PC to attempts to destroy the infrastructure of entire nations. Cyber-attacks have become increasingly sophisticated and dangerous as the Stuxnet worm recently demonstrated.
- 1 Cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism
- 2 Factors for cyber-attacks
- 3 Professional hackers to cyberterrorists
- 4 Syntactic attacks and semantic attacks
- 5 China, United States and others
- 6 Infrastructures as targets
- 7 International legal issues of cyber attacks
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism
Cyberwarfare utilizes techniques of defending and attacking information and computer networks that inhabit cyberspace, often through a prolonged Cyber campaign or series of related campaigns. It denies an opponent’s ability to do the same, while employing technological instruments of war to attack an opponent’s critical computer systems. Cyberterrorism, on the other hand, is “the use of computer network tools to shut down critical national infrastructures (such as energy, transportation, government operations) or to coerce or intimidate a government or civilian population.” That means the end result of both cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism is the same, to damage critical infrastructures and computer systems linked together within the confines of cyberspace.
Factors for cyber-attacks
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Three factors contribute to why cyber-attacks are launched against a state or an individual: the fear factor, spectacular factor, and vulnerability factor.
The most common, fear factor, a cyberterrorist will create fear amongst individuals, groups, or societies. The bombing of a Bali nightclub in 2002 created fear amongst the foreign tourists who frequently visited the venue. Once the bomb went off and casualties ensued, the influx of tourists to Bali significantly reduced due to fear of death.
With spectacular factors, it is the actual damage of the attack, meaning the attacks created direct losses and gained negative publicity. In 1999, a denial of service attack rendered Amazon.com unusable. Amazon experienced losses because of suspended trading and it was publicized worldwide.
Vulnerability factor exploits how easy an organization or government establishment is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. An organization can easily be vulnerable to a denial of service attack or a government establishment can be defaced on a web page. A computer network attack disrupts the integrity or authenticity of data, usually through malicious code that alters program logic that controls data, leading to errors in output.
Professional hackers to cyberterrorists
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Professional hackers, either working on their own or employed by the government or military service, can find computer systems with vulnerabilities lacking the appropriate security software. Once found, they can infect systems with malicious code and then remotely control the system or computer by sending commands to view content or to disrupt other computers. There needs to be a pre-existing system flaw within the computer such as no antivirus protection or faulty system configuration for the viral code to work. Many professional hackers will promote themselves to cyberterrorists where a new set of rules govern their actions. Cyberterrorists have premeditated plans and their attacks are not born of rage. They need to develop their plans step-by-step and acquire the appropriate software to carry out an attack. They usually have political agendas, targeting political structures. Cyber terrorists are hackers with a political motivation, their attacks can impact political structure through this corruption and destruction. They also target civilians, civilian interests and civilian installations. As previously stated cyberterrorists attack persons or property and cause enough harm to generate fear.
Syntactic attacks and semantic attacks
In detail, there are a number of techniques to utilize in cyber-attacks and a variety of ways to administer them to individuals or establishments on a broader scale. Attacks are broken down into two categories, Syntactic attacks and Semantic attacks. Syntactic attacks are straight forward; it is considered malicious software which includes viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.
Viruses are a self-replicating program that can attach itself to another program or file in order to reproduce. The virus can hide in unlikely locations in the memory of a computer system and attach itself to whatever file it sees fit to execute its code. It can also change its digital footprint each time it reproduces making it even harder to track down in the computer.
Worms do not need another file or program to copy itself; it is a self-sustaining running program. Worms replicate over a network using protocols. The latest incarnation of worms make use of known vulnerabilities in systems to penetrate, execute their code, and replicate to other systems such as the Code Red II worm that infected more than 259 000 systems in less than 14 hours. On a much larger scale, worms can be designed for industrial espionage to monitor and collect server and traffic activities then transmit it back to its creator.
A Trojan horse is designed to perform legitimate tasks but it also performs unknown and unwanted activity. It can be the basis of many viruses and worms installing onto the computer as keyboard loggers and backdoor software. In a commercial sense, Trojans can be imbedded in trial versions of software and can gather additional intelligence about the target without the person even knowing it happening. All three of these are likely to attack an individual and establishment through emails, web browsers, chat clients, remote software, and updates.
Semantic attack is the modification and dissemination of correct and incorrect information. Information modified could have been done without the use computers even though new opportunities can be found by using them. To set someone into the wrong direction or to cover your tracks, the dissemination of incorrect information can be utilized.
Israel and Palestine
In the Israel-Palestine conflict cyber attacks were conducted in October 2000 when Israeli hackers launched DOS attacks on computers owned by Palestinian resistance organizations (Hamas) and Lebanese resistance organizations (Hezbullah). Anti-Israel hackers responded by crashing several Israeli web sites by flooding them with bogus traffic.
India and Pakistan
There were two such instances between India and Pakistan that involved cyberspace conflicts, started in 1990s. Earlier cyber attacks came to known as early as in 1999. Since then, India and Pakistan were engaged in a long-term dispute over Kashmir which moved into cyberspace. Historical accounts indicated that each country's hackers have been repeatedly involved in attacking each other's computing database system. The number of attacks has grown yearly: 45 in 1999, 133 in 2000, 275 by the end of August 2001. In 2010, Indian hackers laid a cyber attack at least 36 government database websites going by the name "Indian Cyber Army". In 2013, Indian hackers hacked the official website of Election Commission of Pakistan in an attempt to retrieve sensitive database information. In retaliation, Pakistani hackers, calling themselves "True Cyber Army" hacked and defaced ~1,059 websites of Indian election bodies.
According to the media, Pakistan's has been working on effective cyber security system, in a program called the "Cyber Secure Pakistan" (CSP). The program was launched in April 2013 by Pakistan Information Security Association and the program as expanded to country's universities.
China, United States and others
Within cyberwarfare, the individual must recognize the state actors involved in committing these cyber-attacks against one another. The two predominant players that will be discussed is the age-old comparison of East versus West, China’s cyber capabilities compared to United States’ capabilities. There are many other state and non-state actors involved in cyberwarfare, such as Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Al Qaeda; since China and the U.S. are leading the foreground in cyberwarfare capabilities, they will be the only two state actors discussed.
But in Q2 2013, Akamai Technologies reported that Indonesia toppled China with portion 38 percent of cyber attack, a high increase from 21 percent portion in previous quarter. China set 33 percent and US set at 6.9 percent. 79 percent of attack came from Asia Pacific region. Indonesia dominated the attacking to ports 80 and 443 by about 90 percent.
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China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has developed a strategy called “Integrated Network Electronic Warfare” which guides computer network operations and cyberwarfare tools. This strategy helps link together network warfare tools and electronic warfare weapons against an opponent’s information systems during conflict. They believe the fundamentals for achieving success is about seizing control of an opponent’s information flow and establishing information dominance. The Science of Military and The Science of Campaigns both identify enemy logistics systems networks as the highest priority for cyber-attacks and states that cyberwarfare must mark the start if a campaign, used properly, can enable overall operational success. Focusing on attacking the opponent’s infrastructure to disrupt transmissions and processes of information that dictate decision-making operations, the PLA would secure cyber dominance over their adversary. The predominant techniques that would be utilized during a conflict to gain the upper hand are as follows, the PLA would strike with electronic jammers, electronic deception and suppression techniques to interrupt the transfer processes of information. They would launch virus attacks or hacking techniques to sabotage information processes, all in the hopes of destroying enemy information platforms and facilities. The PLA’s Science of Campaigns noted that one role for cyberwarfare is to create windows of opportunity for other forces to operate without detection or with a lowered risk of counterattack by exploiting the enemy’s periods of “blindness,” “deafness” or “paralysis” created by cyber-attacks. That is one of the main focal points of cyberwarefare, to be able to weaken your enemy to the full extent possible so that your physical offensive will have a higher percentage of success.
The PLA conduct regular training exercises in a variety of environments emphasizing the use of cyberwarfare tactics and techniques in countering such tactics if it is employed against them. Faculty research has been focusing on designs for rootkit usage and detection for their Kylin Operating System which helps to further train these individuals’ cyberwarfare techniques. China perceives cyberwarfare as a deterrent to nuclear weapons, possessing the ability for greater precision, leaving fewer casualties, and allowing for long ranged attacks.
In the West, the United States provides a different “tone of voice” when cyberwarfare is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The United States provides security plans strictly in the response to cyberwarfare, basically going on the defensive when they are being attacked by devious cyber methods. In the U.S., the responsibility of cybersecurity is divided between the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Defense. In recent years, a new department was created to specifically tend to cyber threats, this department is known as Cyber Command. Cyber Command is a military subcommand under US Strategic Command and is responsible for dealing with threats to the military cyber infrastructure. Cyber Command’s service elements include Army Forces Cyber Command, the Twenty-fourth Air Force, Fleet Cyber Command and Marine Forces Cyber Command. It ensures that the President can navigate and control information systems and that he also has military options available when defense of the nation needs to be enacted in cyberspace. Individuals at Cyber Command must pay attention to state and non-state actors who are developing cyberwarfare capabilities in conducting cyber espionage and other cyber-attacks against the nation and its allies. Cyber Command seeks to be a deterrence factor to dissuade potential adversaries from attacking the U.S., while being a multi-faceted department in conducting cyber operations of its own.
Three prominent events took place which may have been catalysts in the creation of the idea of Cyber Command. There was a failure of critical infrastructure reported by the CIA where malicious activities against information technology systems disrupted electrical power capabilities overseas. This resulted in multi-city power outages across multiple regions. The second event was the exploitation of global financial services. In November 2008, an international bank had a compromised payment processor that allowed fraudulent transactions to be made at more than 130 automated teller machines in 49 cities within a 30-minute period. The last event was the systemic loss of U.S. economic value when an industry in 2008 estimated $1 trillion in losses of intellectual property to data theft. Even though all these events were internal catastrophes, they were very real in nature, meaning nothing can stop state or non-state actors to do the same thing on an even grander scale. Other initiatives like the Cyber Training Advisory Council were created to improve the quality, efficiency, and sufficiency of training for computer network defense, attack, and exploitation of enemy cyber operations.
On both ends of the spectrum, East and West nations show a “sword and shield” contrast in ideals. The Chinese have a more offensive minded idea for cyberwarfare, trying to get the pre-emptive strike in the early stages of conflict to gain the upper-hand. In the U.S. there are more reactionary measures being taken at creating systems with impenetrable barriers to protect the nation and its civilians from cyber-attacks.
Infrastructures as targets
Once a cyber-attack has been initiated, there are certain targets that need to be attacked to cripple the opponent. Certain infrastructures as targets have been highlighted as critical infrastructures in time of conflict that can severely cripple a nation. Control systems, energy resources, finance, telecommunications, transportation, and water facilities are seen as critical infrastructure targets during conflict. A new report on the industrial cybersecurity problems, produced by the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and the PA Consulting Group, using data from as far back as 1981, reportedly[weasel words] has found a 10-fold increase in the number of successful cyber-attacks on infrastructure Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems since 2000.
Control systems are responsible for activating and monitoring industrial or mechanical controls. Many devices are integrated with computer platforms to control valves and gates to certain physical infrastructures. Control systems are usually designed as remote telemetry devices that link to other physical devices through internet access or modems. Little security can be offered when dealing with these devices, enabling many hackers or cyberterrorists to seek out systematic vulnerabilities. Paul Blomgren, manager of sales engineering at cybersecurity firm explained how his people drove to a remote substation, saw a wireless network antenna and immediately plugged in their wireless LAN cards. They took out their laptops and connected to the system because it wasn't using passwords. "Within 10 minutes, they had mapped every piece of equipment in the facility," Blomgren said. "Within 15 minutes, they mapped every piece of equipment in the operational control network. Within 20 minutes, they were talking to the business network and had pulled off several business reports. They never even left the vehicle."
Energy is seen as the second infrastructure that could be attacked. It is broken down into two categories, electricity and natural gas. Electricity also known as electric grids power cities, regions, and households; it powers machines and other mechanisms used in day-to-day life. Using U.S. as an example, in a conflict cyberterrorists can access data through the Daily Report of System Status that shows power flows throughout the system and can pinpoint the busiest sections of the grid. By shutting those grids down, they can cause mass hysteria, backlog, and confusion; also being able to locate critical areas of operation to further attacks in a more direct method. Cyberterrorists can access instructions on how to connect to the Bonneville Power Administration which helps direct them on how to not fault the system in the process. This is a major advantage that can be utilized when cyber-attacks are being made because foreign attackers with no prior knowledge of the system can attack with the highest accuracy without drawbacks. Cyber-attacks on natural gas installations go much the same way as it would with attacks on electrical grids. Cyberterrorists can shutdown these installations stopping the flow or they can even reroute gas flows to another section that can be occupied by one of their allies. There was a case in Russia with a gas supplier known as Gazprom, they lost control of their central switchboard which routes gas flow, after an inside operator and Trojan horse program bypassed security.
Financial infrastructures could be hit hard by cyber-attacks. There is constant money being exchanged in these institutions and if cyberterrorists were to attack and if transactions were rerouted and large amounts of money stolen, financial industries would collapse and civilians would be without jobs and security. Operations would stall from region to region causing nation-wide economical degradation. In the U.S. alone, the average daily volume of transactions hit $3 trillion and 99% of it is non-cash flow. To be able to disrupt that amount of money for one day or for a period of days can cause lasting damage making investors pull out of funding and erode public confidence.
Cyber-attacking telecommunication infrastructures have straightforward results. Telecommunication integration is becoming common practice, systems such as voice and IP networks are merging. Everything is being run through the internet because the speeds and storage capabilities are endless. Denial-of-service attacks can be administered as previously mentioned, but more complex attacks can be made on BGP routing protocols or DNS infrastructures. It is less likely that an attack would target or compromise the traditional telephony network of SS7 switches, or an attempted attack on physical devices such as microwave stations or satellite facilities. The ability would still be there to shut down those physical facilities to disrupt telephony networks. The whole idea on these cyber-attacks is to cut people off from one another, to disrupt communication, and by doing so, to impede critical information being sent and received. In cyberwarfare, this is a critical way of gaining the upper-hand in a conflict. By controlling the flow of information and communication, a nation can plan more accurate strikes and enact better counter-attack measures on their enemies.
Transportation infrastructure mirrors telecommunication facilities; by impeding transportation for individuals in a city or region, the economy will slightly degrade over time. Successful cyber-attacks can impact scheduling and accessibility, creating a disruption in the economic chain. Carrying methods will be impacted, making it hard for cargo to be sent from one place to another. In January 2003 during the “slammer” virus, Continental Airlines was forced to shut down flights due to computer problems. Cyberterrorists can target railroads by disrupting switches, target flight software to impede airplanes, and target road usage to impede more conventional transportation methods.
Water as an infrastructure could be one of the most critical infrastructures to be attacked. It is seen as one of the greatest security hazards among all of the computer-controlled systems. There is the potential to have massive amounts of water unleashed into an area which could be unprotected causing loss of life and property damage. It is not even water supplies that could be attacked; sewer systems can be compromised too. There was no calculation given to the cost of damages, but the estimated cost to replace critical water systems could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Most of these water infrastructures are well developed making it hard for cyber-attacks to cause any significant damage, at most, equipment failure can occur causing power outlets to be disrupted for a short time.
International legal issues of cyber attacks
International legal issues of cyber attacks  are very complicated in nature due to conflict of laws in cyberspace. There is no universally applicable cyber security treaty and many legal experts believe that an international cyber security treaty is urgently required (Pdf). They believe that cyber security collaboration must be an international issue (pdf). For instance, the Tallinn Manual  cannot be relied upon for resolving international cyber warfare attacks and defence related issues. These issues can be resolved only when there is a truly effective international solution for the same. Since cyber attacks are global in nature with an inconclusive authorship attribution, it is really difficult to attribute a cyber attack to a particular country. International legal issues of cyber attacks are going to increase in near future as more cyber breaches on companies like Target  would emerge.
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