Financial News

  • 20 May 2014, 21:18

Cyber Fusillades Pushed US To Name And Shame

Over coffee with an intelligence official some time ago, after hearing stories of constant cyber attacks emanating from the likes of China and Russia, I asked him what might eventually push a Government into publicly naming and shaming a state.

"That would be a big step, a very big step," was his paraphrased reply.

"I'm not sure it'll happen anytime soon, but we are getting closer."

Well yesterday the United States took that step, and in having done so, risk massive diplomatic fallout.

Before going public, many discussions will have been held between the two countries through traditional back channels. Evidently to little avail.

In the shadows of the Ukraine crisis, a mirror conflict has been fought in recent months. Russia, in particular, is using the situation to test her cyber abilities.

The Nato website suffered what is known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack back in March.

This is basically when hackers bombard a website with requests, resulting in the site slowing down or grinding to a halt temporarily.

It is basic stuff.

Later in the month, after the Crimea vote, Russian government websites - including the official Kremlin site - were hit by tit-for-tat DDoS attacks.

To any keen observer, these were open cyber fusillades between the two sides.

But as far as we know it never escalated to the stage where national infrastructure or military capabilities were harmed.

Perhaps no one tried. They could if they wanted to. But I doubt any country or alliance would admit their military had been infiltrated if so.

Private companies are scared of confessing to such things lest the reveal their weak spots. Militaries are more secretive still.

Which brings us back to the United States and the unprecedented nature of this step.

Have US officials opened the gates and set a global benchmark, albeit a fairly undefined one?

Will other countries feel emboldened to make accusations when they have reason to do so?

Paradoxically, as cyber capabilities are becoming more sophisticated and attacks more widespread, so governments are becoming more open.

It is a form of defence when the shields have failed.