According to the Russian Federal Security Service, websites of the Russian president, government and parliament come under a thousand attacks daily.
When Norbert Wiener, the outstanding American mathematician, the “father of cybernetics” and the “20th century Pigmalion”, was working on his famous model – artificial intelligence – he, of course, had no idea that his brilliant invention he wanted to serve people could become not only the invaluable assistant to the humankind, but also a dangerous weapon in the hands of individual swindlers and entire states. A weapon, which now, more than six decades after the emergence of cybernetics, needs to be fought against.
A problem has emerged that has been named cyber security. It is so relevant that earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin was forced to sign a decree on the setup of a system for efficient counteraction of computer attacks, the scale and damage of which already remind of the real warfare.
According to the decree, the new system should not only be able to manage the consequences of cyber attacks on state information resources, but also ensure their early discovery and in the future, prevention. The seriousness of electronic threats in the 21st century is clearly illustrated by the fact that responsibility for maintaining cyber security at an adequate level vests with the Russian Federal Security Service. The decree applies to the entire state information structure, and Russia’s diplomatic and trade missions abroad. Private information structures may also receive assistance from the “digital counterintelligence,” if they wish.
What does the mysterious term “cyber security” stand for? Let me digress a bit. Almost half a century ago, in 1964, the author, then a five-year student at the automation and computing equipment development, was lucky to do an internship with the famous Kiev Institute of Cybernetics, the country’s leading institution, which at the time was headed by academician Viktor Glushkov, the pioneer of Soviet cybernetics. I remember how, showing us, interns, around the institute, and delivering a fascinating speech about the prospects of cybernetics, Glushkov emphasized that this science would give people such huge possibilities that there would definitely be those who would want to abuse them, to use them in their own, purely selfish or even political purposes, and cybernetics would have to be protected against such people. Those were truly prophetic words, but, as it often happens, they were not taken sufficiently seriously.
Development of hardware for decoding, reading, adjusting, withdrawing and replacing crucial information has now reached a scale that was unthinkable just a few years ago. According to the FSS, the websites of the Russian president, government and parliament come under a thousand attacks daily. The number of attacks against individual companies’ websites is significantly higher. But the problem is not just the number of attempts at network aggression, but the qualitative change in the nature of cyber threats.
Many often take the word “hacking” contemptuously, like an innocent joke or prank. This is a serious mistake. Today’s hacker is not a lonely teen trying to play a joke on someone or mess with his network enemy. Behind such virus attacks on information resources of the Iranian nuclear facilities as Stuxnet and Flame, there were big multi-profile teams with solid financing (and, quite possibly, with state support).
Having launched in October 2012 an investigation into illegal hacking of diplomatic missions’ network resources, experts from Kaspersky Lab discovered plenty of signs of a global cyber-spy network with centralized management. The Lab established numerous facts of penetration into PC and mobile computers, phones, communicators and corporate networks on the entire territory of the former Soviet Union and in some East European countries. Apparently, this is how the name of the cyber network, Krasny Oktyabr, has come into being.
The first interventions of this network into the websites of diplomatic missions, government structures, energy, space and research organizations took place in 2007. The results of the investigation conducted by Kaspersky Lab are so similar to a global conspiracy theory that they were checked several times and released only in January 2013.
Yevgeny Kaspersky says Russia is the most vulnerable to cyber terrorist attacks. According to his information, there are about 35,000 malicious programs designed to break into computer networks active in the web now and over 200,000 new computer viruses are created in the world daily. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the virtual environment has turned into a real battlefield. Today, it is not necessary to strike a real blow against an enemy’s infrastructure; it is enough to buy an iPhone 5s and strike a virtual blow on an information system that will paralyze your adversary. “Unfortunately, cyber threats have one serious peculiarity that makes it more difficult to combat them – they are lightning-fast,” says security expert Roman Romachev, head of the Reconnaissance Technologies for Business project. “It takes one second to cut off all communications for systems and people in a specific country, to paralyze everything! But our special services and law enforcement bodies cannot act very fast. With regard to cyber threats, the country’s security system is too outdated for the present-day reality.”
Fight against cyber threats, the need of which has so long been emphasized by security experts, became a publicly debated topic after a failed attempt of a hacker in Krasnoyarsk against the Russian president’s website. The response was immediate. The president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “The state is being attacked, we need to take measures to protect crucial information.” Peskov pointed to the growing sophistication of intruders, whose activities incurred material and moral damage on Russia.
It has already been decided to set up a state situation center for around-the-clock monitoring of cyber threats and working out a system of response to them. But this is just the first, even if an important, step in ensuring Russia’s sovereignty in the electronic information field. Other steps will to a large extent depend on the answer to the question, “What agencies are responsible for cyber security?” In the United States and Europe, structures for counteracting web threats are organized at the state level and have solid powers and resources, including financial ones. In the US, the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI are involved in these activities. Many experts believe that in Russia, the same agencies that are responsible for the country’s defense and security should deal with cyber threats. It is necessary to mention that the FSS has already addressed problems of information and high-tech security. Now we can expect that its measures will be concentrated, centralized and streamlined in coordination with other government agencies, for example, the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Communications Ministry. The main goal is to protect government information and ensure national cyber security.
…Norbert Wiener published his famous book “Cybernetics,” which opened the new science for the world, in 1948. It was the beginning of the Cold war, the decades-long confrontation between the two superpowers – the Soviet Union and the United States – recent allies in the anti-Hitler coalition that had combated Nazism, the plague of the 20th century. Now they should join efforts with other countries to combat cyber terrorism, a danger that should not be underestimated and that can become the plague of the 21st century.