Cyber Threats Are Growing, Report Warns

Published February 1, 2009

A new report concludes attacks on Internet Protocol networks—the backbone of the Internet—are growing both in size and sophistication. The trend poses a danger to both government and private-sector databases, experts say.

The fourth annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report was compiled from a survey of more than 70 IP network operators. Released late last year by Web security and management firm Arbor Networks, the report is designed to prod network operators in government and the private sector to build better network protections and infrastructure.

Gauging the Threat

“ISPs do need to take these attacks seriously, and they are,” said Steve Titch, a policy analyst for the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles. “It’s been something of an open secret that foreign governments and terrorist organizations have been testing the U.S. Internet infrastructure for several years to find points of vulnerability.

“Thus far the industry has done a terrific job of identifying, isolating, and containing most attacks,” Titch said. “But the report is correct in saying that attacks will continue and grow more sophisticated. Whether they will overwhelm ISPs, as the report says, is questionable. But most IT security chiefs are well aware of the dangers of complacency.”

Is Government Vulnerable?

While ISPs may repel any future attacks, Titch notes the federal government’s lack of experience with information technology security could be a problem—especially considering the potential for organized attacks on the U.S. IT infrastructure.

“The worrisome aspect is that private industry is way out in front in terms of cyberdefense, much more so than the U.S. government—at least outside the Defense Department. This is largely because most of Congress, as well as federal IT security bureaucrats, … do not understand the nature or the sophistication of cyberwarfare,” Titch said.

Despite the government’s lack of cyberdefense experience and infrastructure, Titch notes much of the critical information that keeps the U.S. economy moving—such as financial data, transportation operations, and health care records—is protected by the private sector, which has better defenses in place.

Aleks Karnick ([email protected]) writes from Indianapolis, Indiana.