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Target located: The growth of the targeted attack

Joe Lipscombe | May 24, 2013
The growth of targeted attacks has been documented in the global press, but the severity is possibly understated.

In 1971, John Draper used a whistle, found in a cereal box, to reproduce a 2,600 Hz tone able to allow phreaks to make free calls—wire fraud was born. This was a man acting on no other motive than personal gain, but how the game has changed. Just last year, oil giant Saudi Aramco suffered a very serious and very public cyber attack, which floored 30,000 machines. This was a very sophisticated and organised act of cybercrime.

The growth of targeted attacks has been documented in the global press, but the severity is possibly understated. Last year, the former US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said that a "cyber Pearl Harbour" could one day take place. Others have since stated that cyber warfare is as much a priority as physical acts of terrorism.

So serious is the risk that many government bodies are now recruiting the services of dedicated cyber-security officers to keep a full-time eye on assets.

"The cyber-threat landscape, now a complex tapestry encompassing a broad range of elements, has both public and private sector organisations in every industry sector on the hunt for tactical and strategic solutions that ensure protection of their critical assets," says Dr. Mahir Nayfeh, Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton, MENA.

And as Franz Erasmus, Practice Manager, Security Solutions, CA Technologies, says, the movement of the digital age has of course played into the hands of the hackers, given the increasing number of avenues they are capable of infiltrating.

"Organisations and states started realising how dependent and vulnerable they are with the en masse movement of even the most basic of government services to a computer-based structure," he explains.

Rob McMillan, Research Director, Gartner, says the frequency of cyber-attacks has increased along with the complexity, which has caused serious issues for government entities.

"There has been an exponential increase in the frequency of cyber-attacks. The Y2K era saw a huge surge in viruses or trojans like ILOVEYOU, Anna Kournikova or CODE RED, which had major impacts in terms of disruption across the globe.  However, the attacks have not only increased in frequency but they have progressed from simple-unstructured to advanced-structured to complex-coordinated over the past few years. Hackers are often paid for causing sabotage and therefore their intentions and determination are undeterred," he says.

Regionally, the Middle East has been at the height of some high profile attacks—whether acts of cyber-war or large government attacks, such as the Aramco story mentioned earlier. Nicolai Solling, Director of Technology Services, help AG, believes that the media plays a crucial role in addressing these attacks.

"Awareness has always been the key to efficiently combating cyber-crime and the media coverage of high-profile attacks across the Middle East over the last couple years has definitely caught the attention of IT departments. Because of this, one of the strong security trends in the region has been the increasing implementation of security standards such as the ADSIC initiative in Abu Dhabi and the ISO/IEC 27,001 certificates in the U.A.E. and other Gulf states," he says.


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