[ISN] Government computers top target for cyberattacks

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Mon Aug 8 01:01:51 EDT 2005


By Daniel Pulliam
dpulliam at govexec.com 
August 5, 2005 

Cyberattacks on computer systems escalated in the first half of 2005 
and government agencies were targeted more than any other business 
sector, according to a new report. 

Attacks on the government, financial services, manufacturing and
health care industries have risen 50 percent since the beginning of
the year, according to IBM's Global Business Security Index Report [1].

In the first half of 2005, there were more than 237 million security 
attacks worldwide, with 54 million directed at the U.S. government. 
The manufacturing sector received about 36 million attacks, followed 
by the financial services industry with 34 million and health care 
with 17 million. 

Attacks considered to be relatively harmless - such as spam or basic 
computer viruses - declined. IBM analysts concluded that for-profit 
attacks are becoming dominant, particularly those involving phishing - 
the use of e-mail to try to fraudulently obtain personal information. 

The percentage of spam in total e-mail traffic dropped from 83 percent 
in January to 67 percent in June, but e-mails containing viruses 
increased by 50 percent during the same period, the report stated. 

In December 2004, one in every 52 e-mails contained a malicious 
security threat, such as a virus. By January 2005, the ratio had 
jumped to one of every 35 e-emails. By June, the number reached one in 
every 28 e-emails. 

IBM analysts believe the majority of cyberattacks now are carried out 
by criminal gangs, which have become smarter. In the first half of 
2005, MessageLabs, a security and management firm that partnered with 
IBM in writing the report, recorded more than 35 million phishing 
attempts. In 2004, MessageLabs recorded about 25 million such efforts.

One type of phishing, known as spear phishing--which involves 
coordinated attacks on specific organizations or individuals for the 
purposes of getting important data--has grown more than tenfold since 
the beginning of the year, the report stated. 

Alan Paller, director of research at the security group SANS 
Institute, said that spear phishing is turning into an epidemic. But 
despite the growing extent of the problem, Paller says that the 
federal government has been ineffective in responding to the threat.

"This is a huge problem," Paller said. "They need to have a strategy 
for dealing with it, and I don't mean a go-to-meetings strategy, but 
an actual action strategy that they can undertake."

Paller criticized the 2002 Federal Information Security Management 
Act, which requires agencies to publish reports certifying and 
accrediting major systems and applications for security risks--a time- 
and resource-consuming process.

"Agencies are spending significantly more [time and money] writing 
reports and less protecting their networks," Paller said. "Let's stop 
writing reports and get the stuff fixed."

The United States was the source of the most attacks in the period 
studied, with 12 million, followed by New Zealand with 1.2 million and 
China with 1 million. Attacks were most likely to occur on Fridays and 
Sundays and between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. 

[1] http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0805/pdfs/ibmsecurityindex.doc

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