Attacks on Federal Networks Increased Forty Percent

Thursday, March 24, 2011

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The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) reports that cyber attacks aimed at compromising government systems have increased by forty percent over a one year period, according to an article in the Federal Times.

US-CERT monitors threats to government domains and networks, actively mitigates vulnerabilities and attacks, and is the hub for network security information sharing for both the public and private sectors. 

"DHS anticipates that malicious cyber activity will continue to become more common, more sophisticated and more targeted — and range from unsophisticated hackers to very technically competent intruders using state-of-the-art techniques," said DHS spokesman Chris Ortman.

US-CERT also noted that zero day vulnerabilities, those that have not previously been identified and mitigated, continue to be exploited by attackers and present the biggest risk to system integrity.

The increase in attacks has prompted government officials to shift more focus and resources toward cyber security efforts, and to advocate an overhaul of the federal laws that govern the authority given to defense agencies and the military to respond to cyber threats.

Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the Defense Department's Cyber Command, recently told Congress that the U.S. military is unprepared to adequately defend against a serious cyber-based attack.

"We are finding that we do not have the capacity to do everything we need to accomplish. To put it bluntly, we are very thin, and a crisis would quickly stress our cyber forces. We cannot afford to allow cyberspace to be a sanctuary where real and potential adversaries can marshal forces and capabilities to use against us and our allies. This is not a hypothetical danger," Alexander said.

US-CERT also noted that threats are amplified by the release of exploit code that detail network and application vulnerabilities prior to the development of effective remedies for the vulnerabilities.

For example, researchers this week released dozens of SCADA systems vulnerabilities which could allow attackers access to critical data located in system configuration files, while several others would allow the remote execution of malicious code.

The unprecedented release includes thirty-four proof-of-concept exploits for common SCADA software including those produced by Siemens, Iconics, 7-Technologies, Datac, and Control Microsystems.

The vulnerability dump comes just one week after Russian security firm Gleg released a tool called Agora SCADA+ which contains twenty-two modules with eleven zero-day exploits in an attempt to consolidate all known SCADA exploits into one package.

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