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Cyber Security Makes the Headlines

If you have been keeping up with world news you have certainly read about the cyber attacks that have been occurring against US government and South Korean computers. Interestingly, the MyDoom virus has been resurrected from the dead and modified in a manner that enables it to launch flooding attacks against these computers. The attacks are by no means sophisticated, but they are so prolific that they have brought Web sites such as whitehouse.gov to a virtual standstill.

Evidence is mounting that the attacks are from North Korea. According to one source, the North Korean army has a unit of cyber attackers; this unit was reportedly ordered to bring down South Korean communications networks.
Members of the South Korean parliamentary intelligence committee have recently stated that the South Korean National Intelligence Service has also pointed out that North Korea boasted last June that it was “fully ready for any form of high-tech war.”

The fact that yet another round of attacks has been launched should come as no surprise, yet something about these attacks is very much worth noting—they were the headlines in many newspapers last week. Information security-related stories hardly ever make the headlines. To the best of my knowledge, the last time this happened was when the Melissa virus propagated so fast and so widely. Before that, John Markoff’s New York Times write up of break-ins into US military and government computers during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield was to the best of my recollection the most recent time before the New York Times story broke that an information security-related story made the news.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and the recent attacks are no exception. Although they have been costly, expensive, and disruptive to the US and South Korean governments, they have once again brought information security to the forefront. The average reader has probably not been influenced one way or another by the news, but there is a good chance that many senior managers have been. Senior managers tend to pay close attention to headlines in newspapers as well as anything that makes the front page in the Wall Street Journal. By being so prominent in the news, the recent cyber attacks have done more in helping educate and make more aware many senior managers than some of the best information security education and awareness programs ever could have. And the fact that Web site availability is being disrupted is particularly relevant to senior managers, given that so many businesses are so dependent on their Web sites being available for their livelihood.

The attacks will continue for a while, but eventually they will subside. It is unlikely that any new lessons learned will result from the attacks. After all, most US government agencies and departments still have a long way to go when it comes to information security, and if information security did not appreciably improve after much more severe attacks such as the Titan Rain attacks, it is improbable that information within these agencies and departments will change once the current attacks are over. But hopefully an impression on senior management has been made, one that just may be the difference to many information security practices concerning the amount of resources and support that senior management gives. And if that happens, as dreadful as the current attacks have been, something worthwhile will emerge from the proverbial rubble.

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