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5/4/2010
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Cybersecurity Summit Targets Public, Private Cooperation

A gathering of tech industry leaders, policymakers, and national security officials aims to address the risks of cyberattacks on infrastructure.

If a foreign entity stalks a local technology firm or power grid, where does the responsibility lie?

Given society's increasing connectivity, security experts say that the potential for devastating attacks launched via the Internet continues to rise. Intellectual property, communications infrastructure, financial systems, government services and even power networks are at risk of online attack.

Accordingly, the EastWest Institute (EWI) think tank this week in Dallas gathers an expected 400 business leaders, policymakers, technology experts and national security officials from 40 different countries. The goal is to devise new, cross-border strategies for sharing information and combating shared information security challenges.

By now, everyone knows the dangers of asymmetrical warfare -- surprise attacks by small, simply armed groups on modern, high-technology nations. And that's exactly what's happening online, where the low cost of attack tools and apparently limitless supply of relatively low-cost talent -- namely, hackers -- makes stealing large amounts of money relatively simple and, at least criminally speaking, cost-effective.

How do you stop asymmetrical warfare online? That's a question posed by Tang Lan, a research fellow at the China Reform Forum, and Zhang Xin, deputy director of the Liaison Office of the China Reform Forum, in a recent EWI report. “Citibank at the end of last year suffered tens of millions of dollars in losses at the hands of criminals using 'Black Energy' malware, which can be purchased online for only $40. And the 'Zeus Trojan' and its variants that attacked 74,000 computers across 196 countries are also available online for a mere $700. The low-cost, low-risk nature of all this has now made hiring hackers an ideal means for conducting a cyber attack."

Furthermore, there's plenty of booty for would-be attackers. Antivirus vendor McAfee, for example, estimates that businesses worldwide lost $1 trillion in data last year through so-called cyber-espionage.

“Cyberspace doesn't recognize national boundaries, which is why there's more and more talk of the need for international solutions, with expanded cooperation between national agencies," said Andrew Nagorski EWI's vice president and director of public policy, on EWI's blog. “Look at how intelligence officials are openly fretting about our abilities to outwit those who would use cyberspace to do us harm. And not just in the United States. In India, China, Russia and so many other countries, cybersecurity is rising rapidly to the top of the agenda."

If this week's conference is successful, private sector and government leaders will form the stronger information-sharing relationships and devise new responses to help more effectively combat cyber-criminals.

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