Cyber-attacks Gaining Acceptance as Another Weapon in War

The cyber-attacks launched against Georgia during the recent military clashes with Russia are just the latest in a growing escalation of security hacks targeting government computers and Web sites around the world. Estonia, Lithuania and the Pentagon were all hacked successfully in recent months. IT security researchers expect government hacks and cyber-terrorism will only increase.

Lest any of us forget the age in which we live, the cyber-attacks on Georgia this past week have highlighted that the Internet is becoming the latest weapon used in terrorism or military campaigns.

During the past year or so, there have been a number of high-profile reports and accusations of hacking of government computers and Web sites around the world.

Here are a few examples:

1) The Estonian cyber-attacks: Much has been written comparing the latest cyber-attacks on Georgia to the situation last year in Estonia. Starting in late April 2007, hackers began a major campaign against Estonian government and commercial sites. At the time, the country's leadership was locked in a heated debate with the Russian government over a memorial to fallen soldiers. Most of the attacks were DDoS (distributed denial of service). Estonia blamed the Russian government for the attacks, while Russian officials denied any culpability. Many subsequent reports have laid the blame on Russian "hacktivists."

2) Lithuania hit by hackers: In late June, hackers defaced Lithuanian government and commercial Web sites with anti-Lithuanian rhetoric as well as the communist hammer and sickle symbol. Lithuanian government officials said the attacks were most likely linked to protests over legislation banning Soviet symbols in the country. The government reportedly received advanced notice of the attack and was able to prepare defenses. Lithuania did not openly accuse the Russian government of involvement.

3) Pentagon e-mail breached: In June 2007, the Pentagon took down part of its unclassified e-mail system after the system was breached. The shutdown reportedly affected 1,500 employees, though day-to-day operations were not affected. Though the United States never officially accused China and the Chinese government denied responsibility, it was widely reported that the Pentagon suspected China was involved.

"I think anybody in any kind of conflict, any nation, is going to use whatever they're capable of as far as cyber-attacks or misinformation campaigns using the Internet," said Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for SecureWorks, in an Aug. 13 interview with eWEEK.