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1/26/2010
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Global CIO: After Google Cyber Attack, CIOs Must Find The Body

The Aurora attacks from China are incredibly advanced and malicious, says McAfee's CTO: "Where's the body?"

Saying that "the world has changed" since the Chinese began their cyberattacks under the name Operation Aurora, McAfee CTO George Kurtz said CIOs need to adapt their threat models "to the new reality of these persistent threats." But these latest attacks are making it hard for CIOs to make their case to the CEO because the post-Aurora threats are almost undetectable. They leave no evidence. They leave no body.

Writing on McAfee's "Security Insights Blog," Kurtz described this latest challenge for CIOs in chilling terms in a post called "Where's The Body?":

Global CIO
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Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our new online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.

I know many of the technical teams are working around the clock to figure out what happened. While one might believe that it should be a relatively straightforward exercise of forensically examining the infected systems and correlating any activity with the associated firewall log files, it isn't that easy.

You may ask, "Why is that?" Well, there are three key questions that upper management, namely the CEO and CIO, ask before they rate this incident above "media hype."

1. Did we have a breach?

2. Was data stolen?

3. If so, what data was taken and by whom?

The problem, Kurtz says, is that today's cyberattacks are so sophisticated that they do great damage without leaving a trace, which leads to "one major problem that seems to be a common theme. There is no body to be found."

And without that body—the data—the CEO and CIO won't necessarily believe there's an urgent issue because in the past, all serious security threats came with a very obvious body included at no extra charge, Kurtz says.

The new challenge: "While a sophisticated attacker will leverage insidious malware, don't expect them to drive a truck through your network and leave a calling card on the way out," Kurtz writes. "Instead, expect low and slow movements of data that 'blend' into the massive amount of traffic flow that happens on a daily basis on your network."

In another recent blog post, Kurtz had described the threats and, again, painted a scary picture. And while I realize he's a high-level executive at a company that would love to sell you some security products and services to stave off such attacks, Kurtz's writing has always impressed me as straightforward and honest. So here's more of his description of the Aurora threat from a recent post called "Google Attack Is Tip Of Iceberg":

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