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Cyber security in 2013: How vulnerable to attack is US now? (+video)

Businesses, government, and individuals seek better cyber security measures, as cyberattacks mount in the US. One key focus is how to protect 'critical' systems such as power, water, and transportation.

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The phalanx of cyberthreats aimed squarely at Americans' livelihood became startlingly clear in 2012 – and appears poised to proliferate in 2013 and beyond as government officials, corporate leaders, security experts, and ordinary citizens scramble to devise protections from attackers in cyberspace.

Some Americans came screen to screen with such threats via their smart phones, discovering malicious software (malware) designed to steal their credit-card numbers, account passwords, and even the answers to their secret security questions. Others were temporarily blocked from accessing their bank accounts online, as US bank websites came under major attack at least twice in 2012 by a hacker group with possible ties to Iran. Some citizens learned that their home PCs had become infected by "ransomware," which locks up a computer's operating system until the bad guys get paid – and often even afterward.

But personal inconvenience is only the beginning. Homeland security is also at stake. The US government in 2012 learned that companies operating natural gas pipelines were under cyberattack, citing evidence that cyberspies, possibly linked to China, were infiltrating the companies' business networks. Those networks, in turn, are linked to industrial systems that control valves, switches, and factory processes. Utilities that operate the nation's electric grid are known to have been another target, as are US tech companies. Crucial government agencies, such as the Pentagon and the Federal Trade Commission, are also targets.

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