December 16th, 2008 | Sources: Economist


If small gangs of cybercriminals can outwit computer makers and antivirus vendors while raking in $100 billion per year in credit card theft and bank fraud, what’s to stop well-funded governments from conducting more sophisticated attacks like shutting down power plants or disrupting Internet traffic?

Not much, it turns out.

Russia proved that last summer. While its army was slicing and dicing Georgia, the Bear launched a distributed-denial-of-service attack on Georgian government Web sites that knocked out email service and public information access for days.

A year earlier, Russia launched a similar attack on Estonia disrupting among other things phone access to emergency services.

OK maybe these countries don’t have the latest, greatest security programs, but now the US Army has been hit. A piece of malware called Agent.btz has infected tens of thousands of thumb drives and memory cards throughout the Army.

Agent.btz is a worm that infects computers after the portable memory devices are inserted into them. Infected computers subsequently hooked up to the Internet automatically download programs enabling distant operators to access the hard drive.

It’s not clear who perpetrated the worm or why they did it but Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff thought it was important enough to brief President Bush on the matter last week.

And Agent.btz is not overly sophisticated. In fact it’s a variant of malware that’s been around for 3 years.

By contrast, Congress was warned last month by a special commission that “since China’s current cyber operations capability is so advanced, it can engage in forms of cyber warfare so sophisticated that the US may be unable to counteract or even detect the efforts.”

Meanwhile simple though Agent.btz may be, it costs a fortune to deal with. One commercial bank that got hit by the worm decided the best approach was to block its computers’ USB ports with glue.

The Army plans a different approach. It’s going to scrub every memory card in its 6-continent system. Tennnn-HUT!


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