Cyber security: Independent reports note increased hacking activity

By Control Engineering Staff November 7, 2007

Two recent reports, one from an industrial cyber security system provider, and another from an arm of the federal government, both note a marked increase in hacker activity in the last several months. Given this data, it is reasonable to infer that hacking in all types of industrial systems is certainly on the rise.

SecureWorks , a major managed security services provider with over 1,800 clients and 100 utilities, has seen a 90% increase in the number of hackers attempting to attack its utility clients this year. From January through April, SecureWorks systems blocked an average of 49 attackers per utility client per day. However, from May through September, it saw an average of 93 hackers attempt attacks on each of its utility clients per day.

“When researching these new statistics, we found that Web Browser attacks represented a large number of the attacks attempted against our clients, including our utility customers,” says Wayne Haber, director of development at SecureWorks. The company warns that users can become victims of browser attacks by visiting Web sites, which unbeknownst to them are hosting malware, or by clicking on a malicious link in an email or instant message.

“In 2007, we blocked significantly more browser attacks for our clients then we did the year prior, as many of the top trojans are using websites and email links as infection vectors. Some of the most prominent malware using these tactics include the Gozi, Prg, Storm and BBB/IRS trojans. Unfortunately, there are companies that don’t employ an intrusion prevention solution and depend solely on their anti-virus software to protect them. This tactic can make many of them vulnerable because anti-virus vendors are often not able to release protections until several weeks after a new piece of malware has been out in the wild,” said Haber. (See the report details here.)

The second is from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and reported at . According to the findings, Federal agencies report an average of 30 incidents a day in which Americans’ personally identifiable information is exposed—double the number of incidents reported early this summer. So says to the top information technology executive in the Bush administration.

The Office of Management and Budget issued a memo in July 2006 requiring agencies to report security incidents that expose personally identifiable information to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team within one hour of the incident. By June 2007, 40 agencies reported almost 4,000 incidents, an average of about 14 per day. By mid October, the average had increased to 30 a day, says Karen Evans, administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology at OMB.

For more cyber security discussions, watch for the November issue of Control Engineering , with a special publication dedicated to this topic. You can also register for a cyber security webcast with an “all star” group of industry experts, on December 5.

—Edited by Peter Welander, process industries editor, Control Engineering Weekly News

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