by Constantine von Hoffman

DHS Compares Cyber Threat to Hurricane Sandy Devastation (and More Security News)

Nov 02, 20124 mins
CybercrimeData BreachMalware

This week's IT security news roundup has stories on DHS's comparison of the current cyber threat in the United States to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy; a data breach that's affecting hundreds of thousands of South Carolina businesses; a new FBI initiative meant to track and identify hackers; and more.

You definitely cannot say the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is hesitant about cashing in on disasters. On Wednesday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano cited the damage wrought by Sandy as a warning of what could happen if the United States doesn’t get its cybersecurity act together.


“One of the possible areas of attack, of course, is attacks on our nation’s control systems—the control systems that operate our utilities, our water plants, our pipelines, our financial institutions,” Napolitano said. “If you think that a critical systems attack that takes down a utility even for a few hours is not serious, just look at what is happening now that Mother Nature has taken out those utilities.”

I’m all in favor of cybersecurity (uh, duh) but let’s put this in perspective. When it was at hurricane strength Sandy released 5.2 x 1019 Joules/day or 6.0 x 1014 Watts of energy. That is about 200 times the electric generating capacity OF THE WORLD.

There’s no doubt that a cyber attack on U.S. critical infrastructure could cause a lot of problems. However, cyber attacks should not be compared to a hurricane that hit the most populous part of the United States.

Napolitano also said: “The urgency and the immediacy of the cyber problem; the cyber attacks that we are undergoing and continuing to undergo cannot be overestimated.”

Actually, they can, and Napolitano proved it.

DHS Warns of ‘Hacktivist’ Threat Against Industrial Control Systems

(KrebsOnSecurity) The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is warning that a witches brew of recent events make it increasingly likely that politically or ideologically motivated hackers may launch digital attacks against industrial control systems. The alert was issued the same day that security researchers published information about an undocumented software backdoor in industrial control systems sold by hundreds of different manufacturers and widely used in power plants, military environments and nautical ships.

Critical Flaw Found in Software Used by Many Industrial Control Systems

(NetworkWorld) CoDeSys, a piece of software running on industrial control systems from over 200 vendors, contains a vulnerability that allows potential attackers to execute sensitive commands on the vulnerable devices without the need for authentication, according to a report from security consultancy Digital Bond.

Data Security Breach Expands to 657,000 S.C. Businesses

(Charlotte Observer) As many as 657,000 S.C. businesses had their tax information stolen in the massive security breach at the state Department of Revenue that also claimed the records of up to 3.6 million people, Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday. Since Friday, when they announced the hacking publicly, state officials had said that they did not think business records were exposed. But Mandiant, a consultant hired by the S.C. Department of Revenue, found Tuesday night that business tax records had been compromised, too

Irked by Cyberspying, Georgia outs Russia-Based Hacker – With Photos

(Computerworld) In an unprecedented move, the country of Georgia – irritated by persistent cyber-spying attacks – has published two photos of a Russia-based hacker who, the Georgians allege, waged a persistent, months-long campaign that stole confidential information from Georgian government ministries, parliament, banks and NGOs. The photos are contained in a report that alleges the intrusions originated from Russia, which launched a five-day military campaign in August 2008 against Georgia that was preceded by a wave of cyber attacks.

New FBI Initiative Will Identify And Trace Hackers

(ThinkProgress) On Friday, the FBI announced a new initiative to track down and identify hackers. The program is an attempt to respond to hacking that had led to “malicious software in two million computers” in early 2011. The FBI describes the program as a way to “uncover and investigate web-based intrusion attacks and develop a cadre of specially trained computer scientists able to extract hackers’ digital signatures from mountains of malicious code.” Besides its relevance to individual computer users, hacking and the need for cybersecurity is becoming increasingly relevant to national security.

Malware Hijacks Your Email, Sends Death Threats

(ZDNet) Three people were recently arrested in Japan in relation to death threats being posted online and sent through email. However, once a particular malware infection was found on each suspect’s computer, all three were released without charge. Automatically sending threats from your PC, this particularly bloody-minded piece of malware has been blamed for a number of serious threats. According to Symantec’s analysis, these include a government-posted website message stating the user would commit mass murder, threats to blow up famous shrines, an email sent to an airline threatening to bomb aircraft and warnings to a kindergarten that hosted a child from a royal family. Analysis of the malware has found that a sabotaged computer can be controlled through a remote location – a common component of such infections. Through this control, the creator is able to make threats on behalf of the infected user’s PC.