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NEW ERA OF ONLINE TERRORISM IS HERE, SECURITY FIRM SAYS

Source: Financial Post

Posted on November 23, 2010

David DeWalt knows Stuxnet is just the beginning.

As the president and chief executive of computer security company McAfee Inc., Mr. DeWalt spends his time waging war against the proliferation of viruses and other forms of malicious software, or malware, spreading across the Web.

But in June, when the sophisticated Stuxnet worm was discovered in more than 100,000 computer systems around the world, including inside the industrial control systems of more than 170 nuclear power plants, it marked the dawn of a new era of cyber terrorism.

"When you start to find attacks that are happening on critical infrastructure, such as the ability to do a nuclear meltdown at a power plant, you start getting a little more nervous," Mr. DeWalt said in an interview during a visit to Toronto last week.

The prevailing wisdom among many cyber security experts and national security officials in Canada and the United States is that it's only a matter of time before a sophisticated cyber terror attack occurs.

In addition to the Stuxnet incident, two of the most sinister and alarming cyber attacks in history were carried out this year. In January, Google Inc. revealed it had uncovered a sustained and sophisticated cyber attack designed to steal intellectual property from the search-engine giant and more than 150 other companies that originated from inside China.

Then, last week, a report to the U.S. Congress indicated that China "hijacked" as much as 15% of the world's Internet traffic in April, with state-run telecom companies inside the world's most populous nation rerouting Web traffic - including data from the U.S. military - through Chinese servers.

"We're seeing a cyber arms race that is alive and well," Mr. DeWalt said. "The cost barrier for countries to enter this race is very low ... How much does it really cost to hire 10 really good engineers to break down a system and find a technological advantage on, say, the smart grid in the United States?"

What is needed is a new model for combating international cyber crime and cyber terrorism that is supported by politicians and governments, support for which has been scarce to date, Mr. DeWalt said.

"If a crime is committed against you on your computer at home and the perpetrator is in Southeast Asia, who are you going to call? How are you going to solve that problem? The local police? We don't have a mechanism for enforcement or legislation."

Of course, cyber crime is now a multibillion-dollar international business, with organized crime syndicates across Asia and the former Soviet Union now targeting computer users around the world. Mr. DeWalt said it's imperative that law enforcement agencies continue to work together to create tougher international laws to bring cyber criminals to justice.

"We see now the crime industry in cyberspace, the revenues and the losses of business from consumers and corporations, is passing the illegal drug trade as a problem in the world," he said.

"When you look at the big picture, you're seeing this very large problem in the world that has very little hope in the near term of being resolved."

Next year is shaping up to be a big one for McAfee. In addition to its continued quest to grow in the computer security and anti-virus software markets, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's acquisition by silicon-chip giant Intel Corp. is expected to gain regulatory approval from U.S. and European officials early next year.

"We still feel very confident [the deal] will close in early 2011," Mr. DeWalt said. "And we're on track just the way we were all along."




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