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Cyber Attacks Strike Holland. Where Next?

Iran-based hackers attacked a Dutch government site used by over half of Holland’s 17 million citizens, making off with codes used to steal personal information. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

The Dutch government Tuesday sought to contain a hacking scandal officials believe originated in Iran…

In July, [U.S.-owned, Netherlands-based DigiNotar] DigiNotar suffered the theft of hundreds of certificate codes used to prove a website’s authenticity to viewers. Armed with these codes, hackers can secure security authentication for bogus websites, from which they can steal data and personal information entered by users.

The Dutch government believes that the perpetrators of the hacking were in Iran, based on information it received from a security consultancy, Fox-IT. The government said Monday that 300,000 Internet users in Iran had been spied on using the fake certificates. It didn’t mention any other victims.

This could happen anywhere. Earlier this year the 24,000 files were stolen in a cyber breach at the Pentagon. Google has been hacked; German-made hardware used in Iran’s nuclear program was sabotaged by computer viruses. America is unprepared for this kind of thing. What will happen if the U.S. energy grid is attacked, the NSA database hacked or New York City’s transportation network is sabotaged?

More and more of our lives need to be on the net.  Routine interactions with both government and private corporations need to migrate to the net to make these relationships cheaper and more effective for all concerned.  Our health records, our financial data, our insurance information and dozens of other critical bits of information need to be in cyberspace.

Fighting cybercrime and promoting net security isn’t a sideshow.  It is one of the major tasks our civilization has to solve.  Let’s hope the drip drip drip of relatively minor incidents builds up enough paranoia and distrust so that we don’t face some kind of cyber 9/11: a mass malicious hack that causes unthinkable damage.

It is not, repeat not good news that the attacks on the Dutch seem to be coming from Iran.

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  • bobby b

    “It is not, repeat not good news that the attacks on the Dutch seem to be coming from Iran.”

    But it’s not surprising at all.

    The Iranian government’s hacker troops are very, very motivated right now. Stuxnet has made them all look very, very incompetent and impotent.

    YOU go try to explain to a screaming mullah why all of his very expensive centrifuges keep getting overclocked and burned out. YOU explain to him why the virus continues to do harm inside of a new, unconnected computer system that you certified as being clean. YOU explain that you’ve been working day and night for fourteen months on that one very basic and very devastating problem, and so far you’ve managed to . . . well, to . . . . okay, you’ve accomplished nothing. All you can tell the mullah is that he shouldn’t be looking to make any bombs quite yet. Soon, maybe . . .

    No, this is just a very good time for Iranian government computer experts to do everything else as expertly and as effectively as it can possibly be done.

  • Jim.

    Steps are in fact being taken to counteract this persistent threat.

    Making sure people know “Don’t be stupid on the web” and keeping them informed as to what this means is so far one of the strategies.

  • bobby b

    Jim: Is the real danger that “people” – like, you and I and Aunt Tilly – won’t take proper precautions with our little Dells and Macs when we’re googling car repairs and news and Justin Bieber?

    My assumption is that getting into infra-systems involves fooling a much more computer-educated cohort at a much more elemental level of machine control – that the skills for hacking me and the skills for hacking the switch that shuts down Omaha’s electrical power supply are very different. (Note that I’m differentiating between the power switch software, and the software that interacts with users paying their bills. Sure, the bill-paying system might be hackable at the same level of difficulty, and using the same essential tools, as hacking me at home, but the system control software is going to be a bit more robust.)

  • Kris

    bobby: “YOU go try to explain”

    [Shrug] It is the will of Allah.


    The gods themselves struggle in vain.

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