Cyber-Threats, Information Warfare, and Critical Infrastructure Protection: Defending the U.S. Homeland

By Anthony H. Cordesman; Justin G. Cordesman | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Threat Assessment

The U.S. government has made progress in many aspects of its efforts to assess the cyber-threat and in improving its capabilities in cyber-intelligence. As is the case with other evolving threats, however, there are major uncertainties that even the best organized effort can not overcome. The world is changing rapidly, and there is no consensus on which way it will develop, the nature of future vulnerabilities, and the types of attacks that will exploit these vulnerabilities.

There is nothing theoretical about the prospect of low-level attacks. Cyber-crime has grown in almost direct proportion to the growth in dependence on information systems, reflecting an inevitable linkage between crime and technological change. It does not help that tools that are needed to carry out attacks are readily available to anybody via the Internet. At one point, Interpol estimated that there were as many as 30,000 web sites that provided some form of automated hacking tools—“hacking made easy.” As a result, such attacks have also become a “sport” of sorts. Nearly every aspect of American computer networks are under continuous “attack,” although the motive behind such attacks is often little more than an attempt to prove that a system can be broken into or exploited. 1

Unfortunately, the seemingly frightening statistics on such attacks—and the certainty that many more are unrecorded—is difficult to correlate with the importance and seriousness of such attacks. In most cases, such attacks are virtually meaningless. In a small minority of cases they

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