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The War on Cyber Attacks

2 June 2011 by Jenn Granger

As the popularity of the internet has grown, so too has the number of people using illegal practices to profit from it.

Hackers have been prevalent for many years now, yet it seems that only in the past 12 months have they garnered front page headlines for the work they have carried out. The media frenzy surrounding Wikileaks helped to bring the work of hackers into the limelight. Social media sites such as Twitter have also played their part with the public now able to find out more about what the hackers are up to.

More recently, the Sony PSN hack has highlighted what hackers are capable of. In fact, it appears that the hackers have not finished with Sony yet: As I write, a group known as LulzSec are exploiting yet more flaws in the Sony systems to take more data. People know about this because they have brazenly told everyone about it on Twitter. Derren Brown, the British illusionist, has even written a blog about the group of hackers – something that would have been quite extraordinary a year ago.

While hackers have seen their notoriety increase, governments have been discussing what they can do to help combat the rise in cyber attacks.

This week, both the British and American governments released reports on how they are planning to tackle the growing number of cyber attacks. Many believe they were shocked into action by the discovery of the Stuxnet virus that disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment programme. The virus was the most complex seen and took control of centrifuges, spinning some out of control.

The UK announced a plan to develop a cyber-weapons programme to counter the cyber war threat earlier this week. It is believed that the Cabinet Office and the Cyber Security Operations Centre at GCHQ are in charge of the programme, with the MoD having some input further down the line. The appointment of an ex commander from the Parachute Regiment to head the MoD’s cyber-operations group, further highlights how this is a military led plan.

The US has taken an even tougher stance. The story broke yesterday that they plan to update their rule book to make cyber attacks a possible act of war. This means the US would be able to carry out military strikes against hackers backed by foreign powers. The story today about the Gmail phishing attack by Chinese citizens brings into focus exactly what impact the revised rules could have…

While many would debate that the US will use hackers as an excuse for military action, their public stance is a sign that they see more threats coming from cyberspace in the future.

Our increasing reliance on the Internet does make it an obvious target and we can expect to see many more newspaper headlines about the exploits of hackers.